Hilary Term Faith and Politics Lecture: What Keeps Countries Poor?

On Friday 1st February we held our Hilary Term Faith and Politics lecture, on the subject of what keeps countries poor. This termly lecture series covers a wide range of issues that are pertinent to today, and this term’s speakers were Nick Lea, Deputy Chief Economist to the UK Department for International Development (DFID), who was speaking on the future of global poverty and inequality, and Dr Johanna Koehler, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Christ Church and Researcher and Programme Manager of the Water Programme at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, on the progress towards rural water sustainability in Africa.

Nick LeaNick Lea has written extensively for DFID on poverty, growth, inequality, fragility, the global economy and the role of aid. He led the development of DFID’s bilateral allocation model and the diagnostic framework used to prioritise what UK aid is spent on, and has written studies for many developing countries. Before working for DFID, Nick was Country Head for the Children’s Investment Fund in Malawi, consulted on growth analysis for the World Bank, and spent ten years working in capital markets.

The lecture began with a talk from Nick, in which he gave a brief history of income, including the extraordinary global economic shock that has been seen in the last forty years, and explained some of the reasons for economies developing at different rates. Development can be viewed as the negotiation of escaping a successive and complex array of traps, which he went on to detail. The first trap is demography in the form of population expansion; the second the economic trap, as firms need a basic infrastructure in order to be productive; and the third is the political order, which can develop in such a way that prevents an inclusive economy and civil society from emerging. Nick ended by explaining some of the work being carried out by DFID to try and help countries to escape from these traps.

Dr Johanna KoehlerDr Koehler then continued by discussing her work on rural water sustainability in Africa. Sustainable Development Goals currently in place aim to achieve sufficient, safe and equitable drinking water services for all by 2030, but there are financial and management challenges involved that make this more difficult. In many sub-Saharan African countries there are a large percentage of users who are not covered by a formal service, facing a number of operational, geographic and institutional barriers to reliable drinking water services. Dr Koehler went on to explain some of the emerging models to solve these issues, which involve risk pooling – reallocating operational and financial risks so that they are shared – facilitated through smart monitoring, using digital rather than analogue verification of the performance of rural water infrastructure. New financial mechanisms such as water services maintenance trust funds have emerged to support bridging the financing gap for rural water services.

The lecture also had links to Christ Church’s African House initiative, which gathers together members of Christ Church from several academic disciplines all of whom have worked in different African countries. They share a common vision of supporting the transformation of Africa for Africans. They meet regularly to develop plans for collaboration, knowledge exchange, a programme for visiting scholars and researchers from Africa, and debate and initiatives on African issues based in the House. You can find out more about African House on our website.