Thursday, June 5, 2014

13 June 2014: What can an experiment in Maharashtra tell policymakers about the impact of sanitation on child height?

Dean Spears
Centre for Development Economics, Delhi School of Economics

Most of the world's open defecation happens in India. Open defecation releases germs into the environment, where children come into contact with them. What is the effect of these environmental diseases? This paper discusses a specific randomised sanitation experiment, conducted by the World Bank and the Government of Maharashtra in 2004 and considers the broader applicability of this evidence.

The evidence from this study suggests that reducing open defecation helps children grow taller – which is consistent with converging experimental and quasi-experimental evidence of the effect of sanitation on child height from a variety of sources. But in this case, the experiment was not ultimately carried out in all selected districts, although data were collected. This allows for a comparison between the two, which is particularly valuable because the final sites had the highest human development indicators. This raises the question of external validity and whether we would expect a similar sanitation experiment to yield similar results in areas with a lower human development baseline.

We believe that sanitation does indeed foster child growth, a proxy of overall child health. However, this study should encourage broader reflection on the external validity of randomised evaluations. We need to ask whether the pool of experimental data we have is influenced by site selection bias, as an experiment requires a high-capacity organisation willing and able to carry out research and implementation. If so, what are the precautions that need to be taken when making policy recommendations based on experimental evidence?

Date: June 13, 2014
Time: 03:30 P.M.

Seminar Room, Ground Floor
ISID Complex, Plot No. 4
Vasant Kunj Institutional Area
New Delhi- 110 070(INDIA)


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