24 November 2014

John Briscoe has died. May his insights endure.

I never met Professor Briscoe, but I was familiar with his work at the World Bank and Harvard. He had an excellent reputation, and perhaps this is why:
By the time Dr. Briscoe arrived at the World Bank, lending for infrastructure projects was under attack and “social-sector lending” on health and education had become a priority. Many dam projects were scuttled as the bank became a target for environmental nongovernmental organizations and protesters with general grievances against what they saw as a corporate model of development.

The complaints, Dr. Briscoe said, often came from places where the lights and water flowed with regularity because of hydrodams.

“Time and time again I have seen NGOs and politicians in rich countries advocate that the poor follow a path that they, the rich, never have followed, nor are willing to follow,” he once wrote.
Although there are obvious costs to dams, Briscoe had the right perspective on their benefits. It's a pity that so many dams (and other water projects) are not about helping the poor or promoting sustainability but rewarding privileged special interests.

Let us remember him for working to put water in the service of those who needed help.

2 comments:

  1. I did know John, and we did go toe to toe occasionally on various issues. Through email or in person, we exchanged ideas and sought some answers. He was tough, but he was also smart, compelling and articulate. He was also willing to concede - but only if you engaged him. He couldn't stand those who disagreed with him but without the spine to engage. It was great to see him win the Prize this year and really touching to spend time with him again. Quick with a smile and old hatchets buried - he certainly has challenged and changed my mind on a few things.

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  2. Thanks for your comments on John Briscoe. I fully agree that he was more closely attuned to the needs and ideas of the poor than many others who worked in this field. I only regret that we never had the opportunity to get together. Ironically, although I was a longtime admirer of his work, worked in many of the same areas in Asia, went to one of the schools where he taught (UNC Chapel Hill) and for a time lived near his home in Maryland, we never seemed to be in the same place at the same time.

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