Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Safe Water in Schools in the US

Marc Edwards, a professor at Virginia Tech who has been leading the research and political pressure against lead in drinking water pipes for years (see for the VA Tech team's fantastic work in Flint), and Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute have published a call for "Safe Water in Schools" to rebuild trust between residents of Flint, MI, and the public utility (if you haven't seen the crisis in Flint, MI, check out this for a timeline of what's unfolded in the last year).

The new Sustainable Development Goals for water will likely focus on access to safe water in schools; clearly the US has not achieved this SDG, given how many lead service lines are in fountains in elementary schools across the nation.

Their proposal includes:
"Require and implement a water-quality monitoring program for every school to regularly reconfirm the safety of the tap water and water fountains. For some schools, this program could include the participation of science programs and students, working with independent testing laboratories."
This is a sound and necessary proposal that could be appropriate in both developed and developing country contexts, especially in line with the new SDGs.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Which Sustainable Development Goals provide the most bang for the buck? A viewpoint from the Post-2015 Consensus.

The Copenhagen Consensus Center recently commissioned economists and political scientists across the globe - collectively termed the Post-2015 Consensus - to identify the most effective targets among those adopted by the Sustainable Development Goals. The approach: a cost-benefit analysis of each proposed target in terms of its return on investment (ROI).

Of the proposed 169 targets, the panel identified only 19 offering "bang for the buck," as defined by providing at least $15 on every dollar invested.

The bad news for the WASH sector is investments in water and sanitation (SDG 6) were only estimated to provide $3-6 for each dollar spent, according to the methodology used.  Interestingly, elimination of open defecation provided the greatest ROI among all WASH-related targets.  And ALL investments in water and sanitation were deemed more effective than the climate change adaptation target.

Bjørn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, explains some of the challenges and controversy underpinning this study in a recent episode of Freakonomics RadioLomborg argues that by attempting to prioritize everything, in the end you prioritize nothing.  He also suggests that even small efforts to improve the efficiency of the SDGs can have large and lasting postive impacts worldwide.

But I can't help but wonder ... does the analysis of SDG 6 take into account the mounting evidence regarding a link between environmental hygiene and child growth?  The Consensus Panel gives the target "reducing child malnutrition" a ROI of +$45, yet we know the best nutritional interventions have only been able to solve one third of the stunting problem (see slide at ~10 min). It is worth looking closer at how any cost-benefit analysis of WASH accounts for health impacts beyond the usual measures of diarrheal and respiratory disease.