Natural Resources Changes on Millenium Challenge Scorecards: People vs. Environment

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The Millennium Challenge Corporation just released their scorecards for 2012. If you are not familiar with the MCC, every year they publish scorecards that provide a quick, one-page crib sheet for each country as it relates to US foreign policy goals in accordance with the Millenium Challenge. They try provide quantifiable criteria for determining aid for things like agriculture and irrigation, transportation, water supply, sanitation, access to health, enterprise development, anticorruption initiatives, and access to education. As much as I disagree with distilling an entire country’s policies down to a handful of charts, I can see how it makes the job of determining policy a bit easier.

In working with the Ethiopian Global Initiative, I’m looking at Ethiopia’s scorecard. There have been some significant changes in criteria this year. I’m really happy to see “Gender in the Economy” (100%) and “Freedom of Information” (22%) as new markers. Though I applaud them for keeping current, I wonder why those weren’t there in the first place. One change that caught my eye though might seem subtle. Previous years’ “Natural Resource Management” section becomes this year’s “Natural Resources Protection.” What this represents, according to their Selection Criteria and Methodology Report, FY 2012, is essentially a division between people and environment. Here are their definitions:

Natural Resource Management: An index made up of four indicators: eco-region protection, access to improved water, access to improved sanitation, and child (ages 1-4) mortality. Source: The Center for International Earth Science Information Network and the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy

Natural Resource Protection: Assesses whether countries are protecting up to 10 percent of all their biomes (e.g., deserts, tropical rainforests, grasslands, savannas and tundra). Source: The Center for International Earth Science Information Network and the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy

This caught my eye because in the case of Ethiopia, the scores in this area are wildly different. According to the old criteria, NR Management is at a dismal 39% (though up by 12% from last year) but NR Protection is at an impressive 78%. With all land in Ethiopia under the administrative control of the government, it may not be surprising that they score high in ‘protection’ — but what does protection mean exactly? The Methodology Report doesn’t go further into it. I’m sure their data analysis is more complicated, and it’s true the government of Ethiopia highly values their natural resources, but if the Center for International Earth Science Information Network and the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy are not using culture-specific criteria for determining whether land is protected, any country with a government-owned land use system could potentially score high on the scale.

With the Natural Resources scorecard change, the MCC is moving away from a mixed enviro-public health approach to a 100% environmentalist perspective. I fully support a criteria based on environmental protection, especially in a region where deforestation has been so devastating. However to put that in the place of access to clean water and sanitation is potentially problematic. History teaches us that it is access to clean water and sanitation that gives people the freedom to make the environment a priority. In other words, it doesn’t matter how protected a river is, when a person needs clean water, they are going to use it—whether or not it is at the detriment of the environment. 

As with any kind of analysis, this change may tell us more about the priorities of the authors than those of the subject. If you have country-specific knowledge, I’d be really interested to hear more about a comparison between the old and new Natural Resources scores on the MCC scorecards as you interpret them.

Gabe Scelta is the Innovation Director at Ethicodes. A fellow at the Emerge Venture Lab, Gabe’s deep knowledge of the technology industry keeps Ethicodes pushing the frontiers of the fair trade industry. He holds a master’s degree from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and a bachelor’s degree from Boston University. He lives in New York City.