Green aid? Controversy around a coal-fired power plant in S. Africa

JOHANNESBURG, Aug 3 (Reuters) – The World Bank has launched a probe into its procedures related to the approval of a $3.75 billion loan to South Africa’s Eskom, but the loan to the power firm is unlikely to be affected.

The bank in April approved the controversial loan — its first for South Africa since the end of apartheid — to fund development of a coal-fired power plant, despite the lack of support from the United States, Netherlands and Britain.

After residents from the northern Limpopo region, where the 4,800 MW Medupi plant will be built, protested that the project posed health and environmental hazards, the bank’s inspection panel recommended that a proper investigation into the allegations be conducted.

W.Bank probes $3.75 bln loan to S.Africa’s Eskom, Reuters.com

This story seems to perfectly encapsulate two of the most thorny issues with aid, development, and climate change:

1. the tradeoff between immediate improvement in standards of living in the developing world through energy infrastructure and the detrimental effects of coal-fired power plants, which are a a major source of atmospheric CO2 and local pollution,

2. the lack of transparency and easily available information on multilateral aid projects. Stories like these only serve to highlight why sources like AidData.org, which make data on multilateral aid projects easy to find and digest, are so crucial.

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Climate change, rainfall, and social conflict in Africa

Idean’s and my new paper on rainfall and social conflict on Africa is now available at the Social Science Research Network. In it, we use a new dataset of over 6,000 social conflict events, ranging from peaceful protests to communal conflict and labor unrest, to demonstrate a robust relationship between rainfall patterns and political unrest in Africa. The paper was recently presented at the Climate Change and Security conference in Trondheim, Norway.

Measuring state capacity

This past week I finished up some revisions to a paper that compares 15 different ways that the concept of state capacity has been operationalized in studies of civil conflict. These 15 measures fit into three broad theoretical categories: military capacity, bureaucratic/administrative capacity, and finally political insitutional coherence and quality. Basically, is state capacity the ability to put boots into the field? The ability to keep records and thus keep track of your citizens? Or is it the degree to which your political institutions reinforce one another (i.e., you’re either a consolidated, participatory democracy or a draconian, North Korea-style police state–but not in between)?

The paper will be posted soon, but here are the quick hits–some of which won’t be surprising, some of which might be:

1. Principal factor analysis (and oldie but a goodie) demonstrates the underlying dimensionality of state capacity is low, with three latent factors explaining over 90 percent of the variance in the 15 measures.

2. The dimensions do not map neatly on to the theoretical groupings: while the first factor, rational legality, captures bureaucratic and administrative capacity, the second, rentier-autocraticness, and third, neopatrimoniality, capture aspects of state capacity that cut across the theoretical categories. Rentier-autocraticness captures reliance on primary commodity exports, high state capture of economic resources (as proxied by taxation and total revenue), and low levels of democracy: this is your classic oil-rich, authoritarian state. Neopatrimoniality combines low extractive capacity with reliance on primary commodities and higher military expenditures–oil rich principalities and resource-rich tinpot dictators.

3. The first two dimensions do a better job of “sorting” the world into groups of states that have experienced civil conflict during the period of study (1984-1999) and those that haven’t. Here is a table from the paper in which I list the top five and bottom five countries, using their average scores for the panel. The countries in italics experienced a civil war/conflict in those years, the others did not:

table_4

4. The first dimension gives us a grouping we are pretty familiar with: the typical low-development, low-bureaucratic quality countries we all recognize as weak states. The second dimension gives us a slightly less intuitive (though consistent with Paul Collier’s recent book), nevertheless important grouping: low-revenue democracies.