For more than a year now (since 20 July 2016), the road between Santa Barbara and Caranavi (on the primary road between La Paz and Rurrenabaque) has been closed from 7 am to 5 pm, Monday to Saturday, due to road construction activities. We didn’t know that, though, when we left La Paz at 5 am last Tuesday morning in order to drive to Rurrenabaque. When leaving La Paz, well before dawn, we paid the road toll of Bs. 9.50, and the guy in the toll booth didn’t think to warn us that we would soon have to wait for 9.5 hours because the road is closed all day.
According to Nina and Arduz (2016), the density of roads in Bolivia is about 8 km per 100 km2 of territory, which is less than half the average density in Latin America and less than a third of the world average of 28 km/100 km2. By 2012, about 52% of the primary road network was paved, while a very small fraction of other roads was paved. The lack of good roads constitutes a serious limitation on the development of the country, as it dramatically increases transportation time and vehicle maintenance costs, and therefore transport costs (1).
This situation is pretty much inevitable for a large, sparsely populated, mountainous, jungle covered country, like Bolivia, but the Government of Bolivia has been doing its best to improve the situation by channelling enormous amounts of money into road construction (around USD 10 billion during the last 10 years), making the transport sector by far the single biggest recipient of public funds. For example, last year the Bolivian Government budgeted 28.9% of all public investment to the transport sector (28.9% of USD 6.4 billion amounts to USD 1.8 billion), while the education and health sectors received 5.5% each, and the water infrastructure sector only 0.9% (2).
The problem is that almost all of these road investments have been unbelievably badly executed.
Academic research is rarely nauseating, and I did not expect to get sick to my stomach from a research project we have with Boston University called “Safeguarding Sustainable Development.” The project is simply trying to find out whether the social and environmental safeguards of the institutions that finance major infrastructure projects in Latin America (e.g. CAF, IDB, WB) help secure the successful implementation of the projects with minimal environmental harm and minimal harm to the people living in the affected areas. The project covers several countries, but at INESAD we just have to evaluate three Bolivian road projects.
Last week we visited the first of our road projects, which is the double-road between La Paz and Oruro (Bolivia’s Highway No. 1). Most people appreciate this new road because it makes travelling between La Paz and Oruro much quicker and safer. It also created lots of local jobs during construction, and local communities have generally been adequately consulted and well compensated for the direct adverse effects of the road construction project. Local people quickly figured out how to get from A to B using this new road (even if it means driving in the wrong lane in the wrong direction for a stretch), so for them the lack of, or highly confusing, road signs were not considered a big problem.
Last month I participated in a very interesting workshop on water and sanitation in rural Bolivia organized by the Ministry of Environment and Water. I learned from the engineers and sociologists there that things are never as simple as economists tend to think. But as the only economist present, I also tried to teach the engineers and sociologists that things are not as simple as they tend to think.
With the combined insights from engineers, sociologists and economists, I have reached the conclusion that 100% coverage is an elusive target for at least five different reasons:
First, the population growth rate in Bolivia is about 1.5% per year, which means that even if we reach 100% coverage by January 2025, by December the same year there will be almost 200,000 additional people who need water and sanitation.
Second, the population is not only constantly growing, but also constantly moving. More than half of all Bolivian municipalities are losing population due to internal migration (see Map 1 below), while a few dozen municipalities are receiving the vast majority of these migrants. The main receiving municipalities are: Santa Cruz de la Sierra (32,000 migrants per year), El Elto (20,000), Cochabamba (11,000), La Guardia (6,000), Warnes (6,000), Oruro (6,000), Sacaba (6,000), and Tarija (5,000) (1). Close to a million Bolivians will have moved from one municipality to another between now and 2025, and most of them will likely come from the disperse rural communities that the government is currently prioritizing for water and sanitation investments. The most extreme example in the map below is the municipality of Chayanta in the northern part of Potosí. In the five years before the 2012 population census, it lost 29% of its population to migration, despite having just reached 94% coverage of water.
By: Lykke E. Andersen*
The World’s most famous equation is undoubtedly Einstein’s E=mc2, and while it stipulates that the total amount of energy in the Universe is constant and cannot be created nor destroyed, only transformed, I will argue that the harnessing of energy for human purposes is what has made the exponential growth of our civilization possible. Read More »
By: Lykke E. Andersen*
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is about to end its 20th annual conference in Lima, Peru, and heads of state and negotiators from every country on Earth are fighting to get other countries to reduce their CO2 emissions as much as possible, in order to keep global warming below catastrophic levels.
This approach to tackling climate change has, as one might have expected, proven depressingly ineffective. Since the Kyoto Protocol was agreed on in 1997, CO2 emissions have increased steadily, with not the slightest hint of a slow-down. The level of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere has now reached 400 ppm (parts per million), which is more than ever before observed in the history of Homo Sapiens.
Fortunately, there are lots of creative, constructive and persistent people working on practical solutions for a happier, healthier, greener and more sustainable future. Of the thousands of inspiring, creative and constructive TED talks, I have selected three that focus on transforming our current climate change problems into opportunities by mimicking nature:
By: Sanne Blauw*
The logic is irresistible: if we send enough money to developing countries, poverty will be put to an end once and for all. We have got to help, it’s our responsibility. In the book The Idealist, Nina Munk portrays the charismatic Jeffrey Sachs and his Millennium Villages in Africa. How good intentions can have destructive consequences.
Already at a young age Jeffrey Sachs (1954) stood out: he received high grades in school, won math competitions, and displayed leadership qualities. He was already a successful economist when the Bolivian president Victor Paz invited him to help Bolivia in the mid-eighties. The country was poor and the economy was in chaos. Inflation reached 25,000%. Sachs wrote a plan for economic recovery. The strict fiscal and monetary policies caused hundreds of thousands of people to lose their job or pension. But the “shock therapy” helped: inflation fell to 15%. As it turned out: the economy is controllable, as long as you are willing to make concessions.
By: Lykke E. Andersen*
Even the most affluent and powerful people in the World are exposed to the risk of adverse shocks and stresses: Christopher Reeve (Superman) became a quadriplegic after a riding accident; Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years; Mel Gibson had to pay more than $400 million in his divorce settlement; Steve Jobs got fired from his own company; and Donald trump has declared bankruptcy four times.
We are all at risk of adversity, or even calamity, and the list of threats is endless: Natural disasters, illness, accidents, unemployment, price fluctuations, conflict, vandalism, fire, robbery, pest attacks, technological change, pollution, climate change, etc. Most of these threats are almost entirely outside our control and it is important that we build up resilience against them so that we will be able to overcome the challenges that we are bound to encounter.
Some people and households are more resilient than others, however. They bounce back even after severe adversity. Nelson Mandela, for example, became one of the most famous and respected presidents in the World and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize after spending 27 years in prison; Christopher Reeve claimed that the accident, which left him paralyzed from the neck down, helped him appreciate life more and considered himself a very lucky man less paralyzed than many able-bodied men; and Donald Trump evidently rebuilt his fortune between bankruptcies.
While resilience is an integral part of the human psychology, it would be useful if we could measure and compare resilience in a more general way. This is what a new research paper and Policy Brief from INESAD proposes.
Bolivia is a beautiful, mountainous country that is very culturally diverse but which also has many inequities. None are more pronounced that those in education: As of 2004, secondary school completion rates in urban areas were at 65 percent for men and 50 percent for women, whereas rural rates were extremely low at 20 percent for men and 10 percent for women (Ministerio, 2004). Lack of educational attainment disproportionately affects the indigenous poor. According to the National Institute of Statistics, two-thirds of rural dwellers (compared to only 44 percent of urbanites) identify with one of Bolivia’s 38 recognized indigenous groups—the largest of which include the Quechua, Aymará, Guaraní, Afroboliviano, Mosetén, and Chiquitano—and in rural areas 66 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. The Unidad Académica Campesina-Carmen Pampa (UAC-CP) is one institution helping to meet this challenge by offering undergraduate degrees to men and women from Bolivia’s rural areas. Read More »
Social movements generate a lot of excitement. Many people see them as the most legitimate way of enacting change in society, as they are “from below”, from the people themselves, more ‘inclusive’ and ‘democratic’. Movements that have come around since the 1960s differ from older styles of public pressure where the voice of the poor and the oppressed was expressed through leaders in trade unions or political parties. Examples of the “New Social Movements” in contemporary Latin America include the indigenous movement EZLN (Exército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional) in Mexico and the landless workers movement in Brazil, the MST (Movimento Sem Terra). But how truly democratic and inclusive these new movements are is rarely a serious research question, but a mere assumption by scholars and supporters who fall in love with the idea of movements from below.
For almost 20 years, Dr. Judy Hellman, professor of Political Science and Social Sciences at York University, Canada, has written critically about the largely uncritical worship of new social movements that seems to have swept the world. She spoke to Development Roast about her once controversial views (which are increasingly becoming common wisdom) and the past and future of research on social movements in Latin America: