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Framed field experiment on resource scarcity & extraction: path-dependent generosity within sequential water appropriation

Alexander Pfaff, Maria Alejandra Vélez, Pablo Andres Ramos, Adriana Molina
Ecological Economics 120 (2015) 416–429

PDF link iconHow one treats others is important within collective action. We ask if resource scarcity in the past, due to its effects upon past behaviors, influences current other-regarding behaviors. Contrasting theories and empirical findings on scarcity motivate our framed field experiment. Participants are rural Colombian farmers who have experienced scarcity of water within irrigation. We randomly assign participants to groups and places on group canals. Places order extraction decisions. Our treatments are sequences of scarcities: ‘from lower to higher resources’ involves four rounds each of 20, 60, then 100 units of water; ‘from higher to lower resources’ reverses the ordering. We find that upstream farmers extract more, but a lower share, when facing higher resources. Further they take a larger share of higher resources when they faced lower resources in earlier rounds (relative to when facing higher resources initially). That is inconsistent with leading models of responses to scarcity which focus upon one’s own gain. It is consistent with lowering one’s weight on others to, for instance, rationalize having left them little. Our results suggest that facing higher scarcity can erode the bases for collective actions. For establishing new institutions, timing relative to scarcity could affect the probability of success.


Evolution of households’ responses to the groundwater arsenic crisis in Bangladesh: information on environmental health risks can have increasing behavioral impact over time

Soumya Balasubramanya, Alexander Pfaff, Lori Bennear, Alessandro Tarozzi, Kazi Matin Ahmed, Amy Schoenfeld, Alexander van Geen
Environment and Development Economics 19: 631–647

PDF link iconA national campaign of well testing through 2003 enabled households in rural Bangladesh to switch, at least for drinking water, from high-arsenic wells to neighboring lower arsenic wells. We study the well-switching dynamics over time by re-interviewing, in 2008, a randomly selected subset of households in the Araihazar region who had been interviewed in 2005. Contrary to concerns that the impact of arsenic information on switching behavior would erode over time, we find that not only was 2003–2005 switching highly persistent but also new switching by 2008 doubled the share of households at unsafe wells who had switched. The passage of time also had a cost: 22 per cent of households did not recall test results by 2008. The loss of arsenic knowledge led to staying at unsafe wells and switching from safe wells. Our results support ongoing well testing for arsenic to reinforce this beneficial information.


Unequal Information, Unequal Allocation: bargaining field experiments in NE Brazil

Alexander Pfaff, Maria Alejandra Velez, Renzo Taddei, Kenneth Broad
Environmental Science & Policy 26 (2013) 90-101

PDF link iconWe assess how unequal information affects the bargaining within resource allocation, a stakeholder interaction that is critical for climate adaptation within the water sector. Motivated by water allocation among unequal actors in NE Brazil, within Ceara´ State, we employ ‘ultimatum’ field experiments in which one participant lacks information. We find that, despite having veto power, the less informed are vulnerable to inequity. When all are informed, we see a typical resource split (60% initiator–40% responder) that balances an initiator’s advantage with a responder’s willingness to punish greed. When instead responders have only a resource forecast upon which to base decisions, the fully informed initiators get 80% of resources for conditions of resource scarcity. Thus, despite each of the stakeholder types having an unquestioned ‘seat at the table’, information asymmetries make bargaining outcomes more unequal. Our results are widely relevant for adaptation involving the joint use of information, and suggest that equity can rise with dissemination of scientific outputs that are integral in adaptation.


Impact of a randomized controlled trial in arsenic risk communication on household water-source choices in Bangladesh

Lori Bennear, Alessandro Tarozzi, Alexander Pfaff, Soumya Balasubramanya, Kazi Matin Ahmed, Alexander van Geen
Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 65 (2013) 225–240

PDF link iconWe conducted a randomized controlled trial in rural Bangladesh to examine how household drinking-water choices were affected by two different messages about risk from naturally occurring groundwater arsenic. Households in both randomized treatment arms were informed about the arsenic level in their well and whether that level was above or below the Bangladesh standard for arsenic. Households in one group of villages were encouraged to seek water from wells below the national standard. Households in the second group of villages received additional information explaining that lower-arsenic well water is always safer and these households were encouraged to seek water from wells with lower levels of arsenic, irrespective of the national standard. A simple model of household drinking-water choice indicates that the effect of the emphasis message is theoretically ambiguous. Empirically, we find that the richer message had a negative, but insignificant, effect on well-switching rates, but the estimates are sufficiently precise that we can rule out large positive effects. The main policy implication of this finding is that a one-time oral message conveying richer information on arsenic risks, while inexpensive and easily scalable, is unlikely to be successful in reducing exposure relative to the status-quo policy.


The Advantage of Resource Queues over Spot Resource Markets: decision coordination in experiments under resource uncertainty

Miguel Fonseca, Alexander Pfaff, Daniel Osgood
Amer. J. Agr. Econ. 94(5): 1136–1153; doi: 10.1093/ajae/aas065

PDF link iconFarmers have to make key decisions, such as which crops to plant or whether to prepare the soil, before knowing how much water they will get.They face losses if they make costly decisions but do not receive water, and they may forego profits if they receive water without being prepared.We consider the coordination of farmers’ decisions, such as which crops to plant or whether to prepare the soil when farmers must divide an uncertain water supply. We compare ex-ante queues (pre-decision) to an ex-post spot market (post-decision & post-rain) in experiments in rural Brazil and a university in England. Queues have greater coordination success than does the spot market.


Efficiency and equity in negotiated resource transfers: contributions and limitations of trust with limited contracts

Alexander Pfaff, Maria Alejandra Velez
Ecological Economics 74 (2012) 55–63

PDF link iconWe consider a case of water reallocation in Brazil, one which has numerous analogs elsewhere. To permit empirical study of the effects of institutions that can facilitate or restrict  allocations, we conducted field experiments to explore trust’s potential when resource contracts are limited, using a novel asymmetric-productivity ultimatum game with a final surplus-sharing step added. As a form of informal institution, trust could in principle make rights and contracts unnecessary. We observe whether trust in compensation is in fact expected and expressed. We also explore whether trust is exploited, and the effect of communication, within our two bargaining structures: (1) no communication; and (2) with a non-binding message concerning the surplus to be shared. We see that our participants both expect and express trust that some of the surplus will be shared. Trust raises total output and some surplus is indeed shared: those who trust gain a bit on average; and the more trust was shown, the more was shared. However, often the trust was barely repaid. Further, the messages—found to help in other research—had little impact and were often untrue. In sum, trust does matter but both efficiency and equity could well rise with complete contracts.


Behavior, Environment, and Health in Developing Countries: evaluation and valuation

Subhrendu Pattanayak, Alexander Pfaff
Annual Review of Resource Economics (2009) 1:183–217

PDF link iconWe consider health and environmental quality in developing countries, where limited resources constrain behaviors that combat enormously burdensome health challenges. We focus on four huge challenges that are preventable (i.e., are resolved in rich countries). We distinguish them as special cases in a general model of household behavior, which is critical and depends on risk information. Simply informing households may achieve a lot in the simplest challenge (groundwater arsenic); yet, for the three infectious situations discussed (respiratory, diarrhea, and malaria), community coordination and public provision may also be necessary. More generally, social interactions may justify additional policies. For each situation, we discuss the valuation of private spillovers (i.e., externalities) and evaluation of public policies to reduce environmental risks and spillovers. Finally, we reflect on open questions in our model and knowledge gaps in the empirical literature including the challenges of scaling up and climate change.


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.


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.


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.

Ensuring Safe Drinking Water in Bangladesh

M.F. Ahmed, S. Ahuha, M. Alauddin, S.J. Hug, J.R. Lloyd, A. Pfaff, T. Pichler, C. Saltikov, M. Stute, A. van Geen
Science volume 314 (December 15, 2006): 1687-1688

PDF link iconExcessive levels of arsenic in drinking water is a vast health problem in Southeast Asia. Several viable approaches to mitigation could drastically reduce arsenic exposure, but they all require periodic testing.


UNICEF K.A.P. Survey Data Report

Malgosia Madajewicz, Alexander Pfaff
UNICEF Report (with Jan Willem Rosenboom, unofficial earlier draft attached here)

PDF link iconUNICEF Bangladesh, with assistance from a number of non-governmental agencies (NGOs), conducted surveys to assess the impact of arsenic contamination in Bangladesh. The surveys aimed to measure the knowledge levels, attitudes and behavioral patterns of respondents living in arsenic-affected areas. The first survey, referred to hereafter as the baseline survey, or baseline, was conducted between July and September of 2001. The subsequent survey, referred to as the follow-up survey, or follow-up, took place in March-May, 2002. In the period between surveys, UNICEF and other governmental and non-governmental agencies carried out dissemination programs to make people aware of the problems associated with arsenic contamination. The primary objective of this report is to ascertain whether these dissemination programs increased the level of arsenic-related awareness and knowledge. We would also like to find out whether varying levels of knowledge and attitude among the respondents appear to explain the variance in their stated willingness to take action or to spend money to prevent arsenic-related problems.

Effective & Equitable Dissemination of Seasonal-to-Interannual Climate Forecasts: policy implications from the Peruvian fishery during El Nino 1997-98

Kenneth Broad, Alexander Pfaff, Michael. H. Glantz
Climatic Change 54: 415–438, 2002

PDF link iconThe development of seasonal-to-interannual climate predictions has spurred widespread claims that the dissemination of such forecasts will yield benefits for society. Based on the use as well as non-use of forecasts in the Peruvian fishery during the 1997–98 El Niño event, we identify: (1) potential constraints on the realization of benefits, such as limited access to and understanding of information, and unintended reactions; (2) the need for an appropriately detailed definition of societal benefit, considering whose welfare counts as a benefit among groups such as labor, industry, consumers, citizens of different regions, and future generations. We argue that consideration of who benefits, and an understanding of potential socioeconomic constraints and how they might be addressed, should be brought to bear on forecast dissemination choices. We conclude with examples of relevant dissemination choices made using this process.


Generating Probabilities in Support of Societal Decision Making: the case of abrupt climate change

Alexander Pfaff, Dorothy M. Peteet
EOS (American Geophysical Union), May 15 2001

PDF link iconEarth-science predictions of natural phenomena are increasingly seen as valuable aids to improved societal decision making. Pielke et al. recently (EOS 7/13/99) argued persuasively that good predictions alone won’t achieve better societal decisions. These authors’ call to change the decision environments in which scientific predictions are used, though, may be more relevant to the daily activities of policy makers than to those of scientists. We see a role also for changing the information that scientists feed into those decision environments. In particular, scientists could better serve societal needs by generating not only possible scenarios, but also improved probabilities that decision makers need, including for decisions to be taken in the near future.


Who benefits from seasonal-to-interannual climate forecasts?

Alexander Pfaff, Kenneth Broad, Michael H. Glantz

PDF link iconThe effective and equitable dissemination of climate forecasts is as important and challenging as their accuracy. During El Niño 1997–98, Peruvian fisheries showed the need to understand forecast use and all parties’ interests.