Sunday, June 11, 2006

How to get results at 1/5 the cost

The scale of assistance to developing countries called for by many experts can seem overwhelming. For example, UN experts have recently called for $1.5 trillion in funding over the next ten years. But these funds would be allocated mostly in a top-down way via large, often government-driven projects. Community-based projects can deliver better results at much lower costs.

Irrigation provides a good example. A review of the experience in Bangladesh in Scientific American shows that the cost of constructing a conventional dam and canal system is about $2,000 per acre. The World Bank has made several loans for deep-well diesel pumps, bringing the cost down to approximately $375 per acre. But that is still prohibitive for poor households. So a local group called IDE (a project sponsor on GlobalGiving) has launched a campaign that has sold more than a million treadle pumps, which can irrigate one acre for only $66 – about 1/30 the cost of the dam system and 1/5 the cost of the World Bank diesel project.

The reality is that governments are unlikely to come forth with $1.5 trillion in official aid over the next ten years. But that is not a bad thing – because even better solutions can be delivered at much lower cost using GlobalGiving and related market-based mechanisms.