Skip to main content

Can information alone change behavior? Response to arsenic contamination of groundwater in Bangladesh

Malgosia Madajewicz, Alexander Pfaff, Alexander van Geen, Joseph Graziano, Iftikhar Hussein, Hasina Momotaj, Roksana Sylvia, Habibul Ahsan
Journal of Development Economics 84 (2007) 731–754

PDF link iconWe study how effectively information induces Bangladeshi households to avoid a health risk. The response to information is large and rapid; knowing that the household’s well water has an unsafe concentration of arsenic raises the probability that the household changes to another well within one year by 0.37. Households who change wells increase the time spent obtaining water fifteen-fold. We identify a causal effect of information, since incidence of arsenic is uncorrelated with household characteristics. Our door-to-door information campaign provides well-specific arsenic levels without which behavior does not change. Media communicate general information about arsenic less expensively and no less effectively.


Road Investments, Spatial Spillovers and Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon

Alexander Pfaff, Juan Robalino, Robert Walker, Steven Aldrich, Marcellus Caldas, Eustaquio Reis, Stephen Perz, Claudio Bohrer, Eugenio Arima, William Laurance, Kathryn Kirby
Journal of Regional Science 2007 volume 47, no. 1, 2007, pp. 109–123

PDF link iconUnderstanding the impact of road investments on deforestation is part of a complete evaluation of the expansion of infrastructure for development.We find evidence of spatial spillovers from roads in the Brazilian Amazon: deforestation rises in the census tracts that lack roads but are in the same county as and within 100 km of a tract with a new paved or unpaved road. At greater distances from the new roads the evidence is mixed, including negative coefficients of inconsistent significance between 100 and 300 km, and if anything, higher neighbor deforestation at distances over 300 km.


Costa Rica’s Payment for Environmental Services Program: Intention, Implementation, and Impact

G. Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa, Alexander Pfaff, Juan Robalino, Judson Boomhower
Conservation Biology 2007 volume 21, number 5, 1165–1173

PDF link iconWe evaluated the intention, implementation, and impact of Costa Rica’s program of payments for environmental services (PSA), which was established in the late 1990s. Payments are given to private landowners who own land in forest areas in recognition of the ecosystem services their land provides. To characterize the distribution of PSA in Costa Rica, we combined remote sensing with geographic information system databases and then used econometrics to explore the impacts of payments on deforestation. Payments were distributed broadly across ecological and socioeconomic gradients, but the 1997–2000 deforestation rate was not significantly lower in areas that received payments. Other successful Costa Rican conservation policies, including those prior to the PSA program, may explain the current reduction in deforestation rates. The PSA program is a major advance in the global institutionalization of ecosystem investments because few, if any, other countries have such a conservation history and because much can be learned from Costa Rica’s experiences.


Responses of 6500 households to arsenic mitigation in Araihazar, Bangladesh

Alisa Opar, Alexander Pfaff, A.A. Seddique, Kazi Matin Ahmed, Joseph H. Graziano, Alexander van Geen
Health & Place 13 (2007) 164–172

PDF link iconThis study documents the response of 6500 rural households in a 25 km2 area of Bangladesh to interventions intended to reduce their exposure to arsenic contained in well water. The interventions included public education, posting test results for arsenic on the wells, and installing 50 community wells. Sixty-five percent of respondents from the subset of 3410 unsafe wells changed their source of drinking water, often to new and untested wells. Only 15% of respondents from the subset of safe wells changed their source, indicating that health concerns motivated the changes. The geo-referenced data indicate that distance to the nearest safe well also influenced household responses.


Climate, Stream Flow Prediction and Water Management in Northeast Brazil: societal trends and forecast value

Kenneth Broad, Alexander Pfaff, Renzo Taddei, Sankar Arumugam, Upmanu Lall, Francisco Assis de Souza Filho
Climatic Change (2007) 84:217–239

PDF link iconWe assess the potential benefits from innovative forecasts of the stream flows that replenish reservoirs in the semi-arid state of Ceará, Brazil. Such forecasts have many potential applications. In Ceará, they matter for both water-allocation and participatory-governance issues that echo global debates. Our qualitative analysis, based upon extensive fieldwork with farmers, agencies, politicians and other key actors in the water sector, stresses that forecast value changes as a society shifts. In the case of Ceará, current constraints on the use of these forecasts are likely to be reduced by shifts in water demand, water allocation in the agricultural Jaguaribe Valley, participatory processes for water allocation between this valley and the capital city of Fortaleza, and risk perception. Such changes in the water sector can also have major distributional impacts.


Will buying tropical forest carbon benefit the poor? evidence from Costa Rica

Alexander Pfaff, Suzi Kerr, Leslie Lipper, Romina Cavatassi, Benjamin Davis, Joanna Hendy, G. Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa
Land Use Policy 24 (2007) 600–610

PDF link iconWe review claims linking both payments for carbon and poverty to deforestation. We examine these effects empirically for Costa Rica during the late 20th century using an econometric approach that addresses the irreversibilities in deforestation. We find significant effects of the relative returns to forest on deforestation rates. Thus, carbon payments would induce  conservation and also carbon sequestration, and if land users were poor could conserve forest while addressing rural poverty. We note that the poor appear to be marginalized in the sense of living where land profitability is lower. Those areas also have more forest. We find that poorer areas may have a higher supply response to payments, but even without this effect poor areas might be included and benefit more due to higher (per capita) forest area. They might be included less due to transactions costs, though. Unless the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol is modified in its implementation to allow credits from avoided  deforestation, such benefits are likely to be limited.


Payments for Ecosystem Services: why precision and targeting matter

Francisco Alpizar, Allen Blackman, Alexander Pfaff
Resources 2007 volume 165:20-22

PDF link iconEven a perfect measure of the ecosystem services provided by each parcel enrolled in a PES program would be insufficient to measure the overall effectiveness of the program. The simple reason is that if a PES program does not lead to an increase in the provision of ecosystem services compared to what would have happened in the absence of the program—that is, the baseline or “counterfactual”—then it has not accomplished anything. Imagine a PES program focused on forest conservation that makes payments to managers of ecologically rich forest land, who have no incentive to clear the land because it is illsuited for logging, agriculture, or urbanization. Payments to these managers would have little impact on deforestation because the risk of clearing was minimal to begin with. In contrast, payments to managers who have incentives to clear their land would be much more likely to have an impact.


Estimating Spatial Interactions in Deforestation Decisions

Juan Robalino, Alexander Pfaff, G. Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa
Frontiers of Biodiversity Economics, Cambridge University Press

PDF link iconThis chapter is structured as follows. Section 2 describes a simple model of interactions in the context of deforestation, based on an equilibrium in beliefs about the neighbours’ actions. Section 3 discusses empirical issues in measurement of interactions and the benefits of using an instrumental variable approach. Data requirements for analysing neighbours’ interactions in deforestation decisions are discussed in section 4. Finally, results for two regions within Costa Rica, as well as discussion of how to obtain the equilibria once the parameters of the model are estimated, are presented in section 5.


Reduction in Urinary Arsenic Levels in Response to Arsenic Mitigation Efforts in Araihazar, Bangladesh

Yu Chen, Alexander van Geen, Joseph H. Graziano, Alexander Pfaff, Malgosia Madajewicz, Faruque Parvez, A.Z.M Iftehkar Hussain, Vesna Slavkovich, Tariqul Islam, Habibul Ahsan
Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 115, No. 6 (Jun., 2007), pp. 917-923

PDF link iconBACKGROUND: There is a need to identify and evaluate an effective mitigation program for arsenic exposure from drinking water in Bangladesh.   OBJECTIVE: We evaluated the effectiveness of a multifaceted mitigation program to reduce As exposure among 11,746 individuals in a prospective cohort study initiated in 2000 in Araihazar, Bangladesh, by interviewing participants and measuring changes in urinary As levels. METHODS: The interventions included  a) person-to-person reporting of well test results and health education; b) well labeling and village-level health education; and c) installations of fifty deep, low-As community wells in villages with the highest As exposure. RESULTS: Two years after these interventions, 58% of the 6,512 participants with unsafe wells (As >=50 micrograms/L) at baseline had responded by switching to other wells. Well labeling and village-level health education was positively related to switching to safe wells (As < 50 micrograms/L) among participants with unsafe wells [rate ratio(RR)= 1.84; 95% confidence interval(CI), 1.60-2.11] and inversely related to any well switching among those with safe wells (RR = 0.80; 95% CI, 0.66-0.98). The urinary As level in participants who switched to a well identified as safe (< 50 micrograms As/L) dropped from an average of 375 micrograms As/g creatinine to 200 micrograms As/g creatinine, a 46% reduction toward the average urinary As content of 136 micrograms As/g creatinine for participants that used safe wells throughout. Urinary As reduction was positively related to educational attainment, body mass index, never-smoking, absence of skin lesions, and time since switching (p for trend< 0.05). CONCLUSIONS: Our   study shows that testing of wells and informing households of the consequences of As exposure, combined with installation of deep community wells where most needed, can effectively address the continuing public health emergency from arsenic in drinking water in Bangladesh.