June 06, 2002

Treasury Secretary O'Neill Goes to Africa

WSJ.com - Capital

David Wessel writes:

Mr. O'Neill displayed both his admirable impatience about the inadequacy of conventional approaches to any problem and his irrepressible instinct to draw conclusions not always founded on fact. After learning that a well outside of Kampala, Uganda, cost $1,000 to dig, Mr. O'Neill announced a back-of-the-envelope calculation that it would cost only $25 million to bring safe drinking water to the 9.5 million Ugandans who lack it, The Wall Street Journal's Michael Phillips reports. After Mr. O'Neill left Kampala, the water ministry's top civil servant thanked him for his concern, but said the cost actually is closer to $950 million...

Paul O'Neill has 200 people who work for him in Treasury's OASIA--Office of the Assistant Secretary for International Affairs--whose job is largely to get him the facts he needs to make his decisions. Does he simply not read any of the paper they send to him? Does he simply not listen?

Posted by DeLong at June 6, 2002 02:18 PM | TrackBack


To first order, O'Neill's calculation assumes 400 people served by each well, and the Water Ministry assumes 10 people served by each well. I of course have no idea, but would that not have been an interesting fact to report?

Posted by: David Margolies on June 7, 2002 01:10 PM

It would be. Let me see if I can find out...

Posted by: Brad DeLong on June 13, 2002 08:32 PM

One well for 10 people is absurd. One well for 200-400 people is reasonable. Here's a reference:
"programme to construct 450 wells in the region bringing safe and accessible water to 90,0000 people ... each well serves a community of 30 to 50 families - about 250 people" [http://www.lifewater.ca/wfs/wwhdw795.html, thanks to Google]

Maybe that government employee meant to say he wants some money in order to allow others to have their water?

Posted by: Jinn of Quality and Risk on June 14, 2002 01:41 AM
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