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Documents recently made public by the UK government reveal the cost of poverty reduction in the Millennium Villages Project, a self-described "solution to extreme poverty" in African villages created by Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs. The project costs at least US$12,000 per household that it lifts from poverty—about 34 times the annual incomes of those households.
I finally visited a Millennium Village, the Koraro Cluster, in the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia (estimated regional population is 4.5 million people). The cluster is located in the Hawzien district (population 117,954) and is made up of 11 villages: Koraro plus 10 neighboring villages (68,000 people total).
A remarkable study reached the public last week. It is the first independent, rigorous, firsthand evaluation of the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), an effort by the United Nations and Columbia University whose admirable goal was to show that “the poorest regions of rural Africa can lift themselves out of extreme poverty in five year’s time.” The new study shows that the MVP is far from reaching that goal at its flagship site.
The Millennium Villages Project, now underway in villages across Africa, is a keystone of United Nations efforts against global poverty. For years there has been a largely behind-the-scenes debate about how that project is evaluating its impacts. In the past week that debate suddenly heated up. A lot.
Six months ago, Gabriel Demombynes and I wrote a paper about when and why some development projects should use careful impact evaluation. We illustrated our case with a critique of the impact evaluation methods used by the Millennium Villages Project (MVP).
Last year, Gabriel Demombynes and I released evidence that the Millennium Villages Project was overstating its impacts on African villages, and missing a great opportunity to learn via careful evaluation.
A version of this blog also appeared on the Huffington Post.
Back in 2004 a major new development project started in Bar-Sauri, Kenya. This Millennium Village Project (MVP) seeks to break individual village clusters free from poverty with an intense, combined aid package for agriculture, education, health, and infrastructure. The United Nations and Columbia University began the pilot phase in Bar-Sauri and have extended it to numerous village clusters in nine other countries. They hope to scale up the approach across much of Africa.
But wait: Before we consider blanketing a continent with any aid intervention, we have to know whether or not it works. For example, we have to know if different things have happened in Bar-Sauri than have happened in nearby Uranga, which was not touched by the project. And we have to know if those differences will last. This matters because aid money is scarce, and the tens of millions slated for the MVP are tens of millions that won’t be spent on other efforts.
Here I discuss a new research paper that I wrote with Gabriel Demombynes of the World Bank.
I recently made a public plea for rigorous evaluation of the U.N. Millennium Village Project (MVP), an experimental effort to break African villages out of poverty traps with a large package of outside assistance. The public response from the MVP left me puzzled.