When the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization released new world hunger estimates earlier this month, which showed a drop in the number of malnourished, at least one person took issue with the stats. William Easterly, NYU economics professor and author of White Man’s Burden, wrote a rather pointed post on aidwatchers.com that implied that the numbers were “made-up”:
“The FAO reports that the number of hungry people fell from 1.02 billion in 2008 to 925 million in 2009. That’s very good news, unless it didn’t happen. … How did the FAO come up with a number for 2009, when the World Development Indicators (WDI) of the World Bank are only reporting malnutrition numbers up through 2008? … Is there any possibility that political pressure surrounding the hunger Millennium Development Goal (MDG) led to the creation of numbers based on the alternative methodology known as ‘wild guesses’?”
Ouch. Easterly ends by saying, “Perhaps the FAO has very good answers for these questions,” but you get the feeling that he doesn’t expect the FAO to respond.
But that’s just what happened. Days later, David Dawe, senior economist at the FAO, sent his own letter to aidwatchers.com:
“Dear Professor Easterly,“I am a leader of the technical team in FAO responsible for publication of the State of Food Insecurity in the World, which reports FAO’s estimates of undernourishment every year. I would like to clarify the methodology behind the recently reported estimates of undernourishment …”
Dawe’s letter goes on to do just that, convincingly. And in case any readers missed the masterful way in which he dismantled Easterly’s suggestive questions, Dawe concludes by politely thanking Easterly, as if he were a petulant freshman asking questions out of his depth. Then Dawe writes: “In addition, I will invite you to present a seminar at FAO so that we can benefit from your insights on this issue.”
Anybody want to place bets on whether Easterly will show?