Scaling Up

Web Exclusive

Scaling Up

Rebecca Rosen

Checking in on Jeffrey Sachs’s Millennium Villages Project

Share:
Read Time:
1m 45sec

Journalist Sam Rich was one of the first to report back from on the ground in Sauri, Kenya, site of economist Jeffrey Sachs’s experiment with “shock aid.” In a piece published in our Spring 2007 issue, Rich cast a skeptical eye upon Sachs’s Millennium Village Project (MVP) and the millions of dollars it was pouring into the village—roughly $100 per inhabitant for five years. At the time, two years since the advent of the project, small but unmistakable gains were already emerging: Malaria infection rates had dropped from 40 to 20 percent and 50 new taps spouted purified drinking water. Sauri’s once sickly schoolchildren had recently placed first in a regional sports competition.

Despite such improvements, a giant question mark hovered over Sachs’s project: Could these efforts in Sauri be “scaled-up” to address poverty across the country and perhaps the continent?

Sauri’s five years of intense aid are now winding down and that question has yet to be answered. A recent New York Times piece by East Africa bureau chief Jeffrey Gettleman reports that Sachs and his team will publish a major review later this year. Many aid watchers, such as Michael Clemens at the Center for Global Development, have called for a rigorous empirical study comparing of Sauri and the other Millennium Villages with villages that haven’t received such intense aid.

But some doubt whether such a review would be useful. Chris Blattman, a professor of political science and economics at Yale University, muses in his blog, “Even if we looked at control villages, and saw an impact, what we would learn from it? ‘A gazillion dollars in aid and lots of government attention produces good outcomes.’ Should this be shocking?”

Perhaps not, but billions of dollars in foreign aid may rest on perceptions of how Sauri has fared.

For an excellent on-the-ground picture of another Millennium Village, Koraro in Ethiopia, see six guest posts by Jeff Marlow, a professor at the California Institute of Technology, on Nicholas Kristof’s blog.