Thursday, July 23, 2009

The World Bank's Little Book of Horrors

The World Bank's 2008 Little Data Book on Africa (.pdf) might also have been called the Little Book of Horrors. It describes a world of human beings living at the extremes of poverty and at the edge of a precarious existence, particularly children under five years old.

I ran some of the data from sub-Saharan countries where there are more than 200 deaths per thousand for under-5-year-olds to try to get some correlations between:

- The amounts of aid flowing into a country as a percentage of GDP.
- The per capita GDP.
- And the number of deaths per thousand for under-5-year-olds.

I found that there isn't much of one. Both oil-rich Angola and Equatorial Guinea, which both have less than 1 percent of aid as a percentage of GDP, have about the same deaths per thousand of children under five as countries which are much more aid dependent.

What's striking is that these two oil-rich countries boast per capita GDPs far above the average -- less than $300 -- for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, with Angola at $1,069 and Equatorial Guinea at an astounding $7,470. If a measure of a country's performance is how it uses its wealth to protect its young, then both Angola and Equatorial Guinea have to be rated as failures, as they have the same or slightly worse mortality rates for under-5-year-olds than Liberia (per capita GDP $134) and Mali (per capita GDP $290.)

What's striking is that in the band of countries with under-five mortality rates greater than 200 per thousand, the amount of aid as a percentage of GDP runs from .3 percent to 43.8 percent. This suggests that massive amounts of aid in Africa might be good for some things but not necessarily for reaching one's 6th birthday.

(First published April 29th in World Politics Review)

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