International Development

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International Development

Experts in health, education, governance, energy and social justice collaborate to learn how different levers of action can impact communities.

Research Spotlight

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Causes of Indonesia’s Forest Fires

New research features a 30,000-village case study of the 2015 fire season on Sumatra and Kalimantan and asks which villages, for a given level of spatial fire risk, are more likely to have fire.
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Fateful Decisions: Choices That Will Shape China's Future

Experts provide a cutting-edge analytic framework for understanding the decisions that will determine China's trajectory.
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Do Immigrants Assimilate More Slowly Today Than in the Past?

Using millions of historical census records and modern birth certificates, new research documents that immigrants assimilated into U.S. society at similar rates in the past and present.

Featured Scholars

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Lisa Blaydes

Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
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Lisa Blaydes

Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
Associate Professor of Political Science
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Ertharin Cousin

Visiting Scholar at the Center on Food Security and the Environment
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Ertharin Cousin

Visiting Scholar at the Center on Food Security and the Environment
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Alberto Díaz-Cayeros

Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
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Alberto Díaz-Cayeros

Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
Affiliated faculty, Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law
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Prashant Loyalka

Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
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Prashant Loyalka

Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Education

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Publications

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Journal Articles

Intermediation in Mortgage-Backed Securities: The Plantation Business of F.W. Hudig, 1759-1797

Abe de Jong, Tim Kooijmans, Peter Koudijs
SSRN, 2020 June 19, 2020

Dutch-Caribbean plantations attracted substantial outside funding in the 1760s. This came to an abrupt end after the 1773 credit crisis. We use one banker’s detailed archives to analyze how bankers and investors were initially able to overcome asymmetric information problems, and why the system eventually broke down. Bankers oversaw plantations’ cash flows and placed debt with investors in the form of mortgage-backed securities. Strong growth led to lax screening and an oversupply of credit. After a fall in commodity prices, plantation debts were unsustainable.

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Journal Articles

School Quality and Peer Effects: Explaining Differences in Academic Performance between China’s Migrant and Rural Students

Xiaobing Wang, Zhouhang Yuan, Shi Min, Scott Rozelle
The Journal of Development Studies, 2020 June 10, 2020
In China, parents have a choice to either send their children to private migrant schools in urban areas or to keep them in their own county. It is unclear whether the academic differences of students in rural schools and those in private migrant schools is due to the quality of schools, the quality of students/peers, or the ways that peer effects interact with the quality of the school. Using survey data from students with rural residency who attended either migrant schools or rural public schools, we measure how differences in the quality of the types of schools and how the effect of peers differs in high- versus low-quality schools. An instrumental variable approach is used to identify the causality of a student’s peers on his or her academic outcomes and within the context of each of the school venues. The gap in student academic performance is explained by the differences in each student’s peers as and in how peers interact in the schooling environments. The analysis also demonstrates that there is a significant interaction effect between one’s peers and the quality of a student’s school environment. We found that school quality has a complementary effect with peers on student academic performance.
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Journal Articles

Feeling Bad and Doing Bad: Student Confidence in Reading in Rural China

Qiufeng Gao, Huan Wang, Fang Chang, Qi An, Hongmei Yi, Kaleigh Kenny, Yaojiang Shi
Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 2020 May 5, 2020
This article reports on research conducted to investigate student confidence in reading by collecting data from 135 primary schools in rural China. In the survey, we adopted the PIRLS scales of confidence in reading and reading skills test items. Our analysis shows that compared to the other countries and regions, rural China ranks last with regard to student confidence in reading and reading achievement. The correlation analysis reveals that in rural China there is a strong correlation between student confidence in reading and reading achievement. Additionally, school and teacher factors are associated with student confidence in reading. Specifically, having an accessible classroom library is associated with higher reading confidence, especially among the poor readers. Teacher instruction in reading correlates with higher confidence in readers for high achievers. Our findings indicate that the government should develop effective policies to improve student confidence in reading and reading skills in rural China.
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Working Papers

Isolating the "Tech" from EdTech: Experimental Evidence on Computer Assisted Learning in China

Yue Ma, Robert Fairlie, Prashant Loyalka, Scott Rozelle
The National Bureau of Economic Research , 2020 April 10, 2020
EdTech which includes online education, computer assisted learning (CAL), and remote instruction was expanding rapidly even before the current full-scale substitution for in-person learning at all levels of education around the world because of the coronavirus pandemic. Studies of CAL interventions have consistently found large positive effects, bolstering arguments for the widespread use of EdTech. However CAL programs, often held after school, provide not only computer-based instruction, but often additional non-technology based inputs such as more time on learning and instructional support by facilitators. In this paper, we develop a theoretical model to carefully explore the possible channels by which CAL programs might affect academic outcomes among schoolchildren. We isolate and test the technology-based effects of CAL and additional parameters from the theoretical model, by designing a novel multi-treatment field experiment with more than four thousand schoolchildren in rural China. Although we find evidence of positive overall CAL program effects on academic outcomes, when we isolate the technology-based effect of CAL (over and above traditional pencil-and-paper learning) we generally find small to null effects. Our empirical results suggest that, at times, the “Tech” in EdTech may have relatively small effects on academic outcomes, which has important implications for the continued, rapid expansion of technologies such as CAL throughout the world.
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Journal Articles

Do Immigrants Assimilate More Slowly Today Than in the Past?

Ran Abramitzky, Leah Boustan, Katherine Eriksson
American Economic Review: Insights, 2020 March 31, 2020

Using millions of historical census records and modern birth certificates, we document that immigrants assimilated into US society at similar rates in the past and present. We measure cultural assimilation as immigrants giving their children less foreign names after spending more time in the United States, and show that immigrants erase about one-half of the naming gap with natives after 20 years both historically and today. Immigrants from poorer countries choose more foreign names upon first arrival in both periods but are among the fastest to shift toward native-sounding names.

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Journal Articles

Wage Differential between Rural Migrants and Urban Workers in the People's Republic of China

Hong Cheng, Dezhuang Hu, Hongbin Li
Asian Development Review, 2020 March 16, 2020
Using a recently constructed dataset that draws on the China Employer–Employee Survey, this paper provides new evidence on the earnings gap between rural migrant and urban manufacturing workers in the People's Republic of China. When we only control for province fixed effects, we find that rural migrant workers are paid 22.3% less per month and 32.2% less per hour than urban workers. We find that the gap in hourly earnings is larger than the gap in monthly earnings because rural migrant workers tend to work an average of 5.6% more hours per month than urban workers. Using these data, we also find that 87.4% of the monthly earnings gap and 73.9% of the hourly earnings gap can be attributed to differences in the individual characteristics and human capital levels of rural migrant and urban workers. Furthermore, we find that this unexplained earnings gap varies among different groups of workers. The earnings gap is much larger (i) for workers in state-owned enterprises than in nonstate-owned enterprises, (ii) for college-educated workers than workers with lower levels of educational attainment, and (iii) in Guangdong province than in Hubei province.
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Journal Articles

Agricultural and Rural Development in China During the Past Four Decades: An Introduction

Jikun Huang, Scott Rozelle, Xinkai Zhu, Shiji Zhao, Yu Sheng
The Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 2019 December 13, 2019
The past four decades have witnessed unprecedented economic growth and rapidly rising food demand in China. This paper provides an introduction to readers with useful information summarising the development of China’s agricultural sector and the transformation of its rural economy over the 40 years of economic reform. It is, however, impossible to cover all aspects of this recent and rich history in a single journal special issue. Nevertheless, we are of the view that these papers address the most fundamentally important and insightful topics including: land reform and rural development; technology progress and productivity growth; changing food consumption patterns; rural education and human capital accumulation; and poverty alleviation.
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Journal Articles

The Internet’s Challenge to Democracy: Framing the Problem and Assessing Reforms

Nathaniel Persily, Nathaniel Persily
2019 November 25, 2019

The Program on Democracy and the Internet runs the work of the Kofi Annan Commission on Elections and Democracy in the Digital Age which will produce guidelines to support democracies, particularly those of the global south. 

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Journal Articles

Causes of Indonesia’s forest fires

Rosamond L. Naylor, Ryan Edwards, Matt Higgins, Walter P. Falcon
World Development Journal, 2019 November 25, 2019

The economic costs of Indonesia’s 2015 forest fires are estimated to exceed US $16 billion, with more than 100,000 premature deaths. On several days the fires emitted more carbon dioxide than the entire United States economy. Here, we combine detailed geospatial data on fire and local climatic conditions with rich administrative data to assess the underlying causes of Indonesia’s forest fires at district and village scales. We find that El Niño events explain most of the year-on-year variation in fire.

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Conference Memos

The Future of Food from the Sea

Rosamond L. Naylor
High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, 2019 November 19, 2019

As the global population and people’s incomes rise, the demand for ocean-derived food will continue to grow. At the same time, hunger and malnutrition continues to be a challenge in many countries, particularly in rural or developing areas. Looking to the ocean as a source of protein produced using low-carbon methodologies will be critical for food security, nutrition and economic stability, especially in coastal countries where hunger and malnutrition are a challenge.

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Journal Articles

Can School Feeding Programs Reduce Malnutrition in Rural China?

Huan Wang, Qiran Zhao, Matthew Boswell, Scott Rozelle
Journal of School Health, 2019 November 8, 2019
BACKGROUND
Childhood malnutrition is commonplace among poor rural communities in China. In 2012, China launched its first nationwide school‐feeding program (SFP) to address this problem. This study examines the prevalence of malnutrition before and after the SFP and identifies possible reasons for the trends observed.
 
METHODS
Ordinary least squares regression and propensity score matching were used to analyze data from 2 cross‐sectional surveys of 100 rural primary schools in northwestern China. Participants were fourth‐and fifth‐grade students. Outcome measures include anemia rates, hemoglobin levels, body mass index, and height for age Z scores.
 
RESULTS
Three years after implementation of the SFP, malnutrition rates among sample students had not fallen. The SFP had no statistically significant effect on either anemia rates or BMI, but was linked to an increase in the proportion of students with below normal height for age Z scores. Meals provided to students fell far short of national recommendations that the SPF should provide 40% of the recommended daily allowance of micronutrients.
 
CONCLUSIONS
Despite significant budgetary outlays between 2012 and 2015, China's SFP has not reduced the prevalence of malnutrition among sample students. To make the SFP more effective, funding and human resources both need to be increased.
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Journal Articles

Eyes in the Sky, Boots on the Ground: Assessing Satellite- and Ground-Based Approaches to Crop Yield Measurement and Analysis

David Lobell, Marshall Burke, George Azzari, Sydney Gourlay, Zhenong Jin, Talip Kilic, Siobhan Murray
American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 2019 October 26, 2019

Understanding the determinants of agricultural productivity requires accurate measurement of crop output and yield. In smallholder production systems across low- and middle-income countries, crop yields have traditionally been assessed based on farmer-reported production and land areas in household/farm surveys, occasionally by objective crop cuts for a sub-section of a farmer’s plot, and rarely using full-plot harvests. In parallel, satellite data continue to improve in terms of spatial, temporal, and spectral resolution needed to discern performance on smallholder plots.

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Working Papers

EdTech for Equity in China: Can Technology Improve Teaching for Millions of Rural Students?

Cody Abbey, Yue Ma, Guirong Li, Matthew Boswell, Claire Cheng, Robert Fairlie, Oliver Lee, Prashant Loyalka, Andrew Mi, Evan Peng, Scott Rozelle, Adrian Sun, Andy Zeng, Jenny Zhao
2019 October 21, 2019

Previous literature suggests subpar teaching is a primary reason why rural Chinese students lag behind academically. We initiate an investigation into the potential of educational technology (EdTech) to increase teaching quality in rural China. First, we discuss why conventional approaches of improving teaching in remote schools are infeasible in China’s context, referring to past research. We then explore the capacity of technology-assisted instruction to improve academic performance by examining previous empirical analyses. Third, we show that China is not limited by the resource constraints of other developing countries due to substantial policy support and a thriving EdTech industry. Finally, we identify potential implementation-related challenges based on the results of a preliminary qualitative survey of pilots of EdTech interventions. With this paper, we lay the foundation for a long-term research investigation into whether EdTech can narrow China’s education gap.

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Journal Articles

The Prevalence of Parent-Teacher Interaction in Developing Countries and its Effect on Student Outcomes

Guirong Li, Millie Lin, Chengfang Liu, Angela Johnson, Yanyan Li, Prashant Loyalka
Teaching and Teacher Education, 2019 August 1, 2019

Empirical evidence from developed countries supports the idea that parent-teacher interaction is high and improves student outcomes. The evidence from developing countries is, however, decidedly mixed. Using longitudinal data from nearly 6000 students and their 600 teachers in rural China, we show the prevalence of parent-teacher interaction is generally much lower than that of developed countries. We also show parent-teacher interaction, when it exists, can have positive effects on raising academic achievement and reducing learning anxiety. We demonstrate that the prevalence and effectiveness of parent-teacher interaction in a developing country context varies considerably due to both demand-side and supply-side factors.

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Journal Articles

Stuck in Place? A Field Experiment on the Effects of Reputational Information on Student Evaluations

James Chu, Guirong Li, Prashant Loyalka, Chengfang Liu, Leonardo Rosa, Yanyan Li
Social Forces, 2019 July 10, 2019

Studies suggest that students’ prior performance can shape subsequent teacher evaluations, but the magnitude of reputational effects and their implications for educational inequality remain unclear. Existing scholarship presents two major perspectives that exist in tension: do teachers primarily use reputational information as a temporary signal that is subsequently updated in response to actual student performance? Or do teachers primarily use reputational information as a filter that biases perception of subsequent evidence, thus crystallizing student reputations and keeping previously poor-performing students stuck in place? In a field experiment, we recruited a random sample of 832 junior high school teachers from the second-most populous province of China to grade a sequence of four essays written by the same student, and we randomly assign both the academic reputation of the student and the quality of the essays produced. We find that (1) reputational information influences how teachers grade, (2) teachers rely on negative information more heavily than positive information, and (3) negative reputations are crystallized by a single behavioral confirmation. These results suggest that students can escape their prior reputations, but to do so, they must contradict them immediately, with a single confirmation sufficient to crystallize a negative reputation.

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Journal Articles

Does Teacher Training Actually Work? Evidence from a Large-Scare Randomized Evaluation of a National Teacher Training Program

Prashant Loyalka, Anna Popova, Guirong Li, Zhaolei Shi
American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 2019 July 1, 2019
Despite massive investments in teacher professional development (PD) programs in developing countries, there is little evidence on their effectiveness. We present results of a large-scale, randomized evaluation of a national PD program in China in which teachers were randomized to receive PD; PD plus follow-up; PD plus evaluation of the command of PD content; or no PD. Precise estimates indicate PD and associated interventions failed to improve teacher and student outcomes after one year. A detailed analysis of the causal chain shows teachers find PD content to be overly theoretical, and PD delivery too rote and passive, to be useful.
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Journal Articles

The Impact of Teacher Professional Development Programs on Student Achievement in Rural China: Evidence from Shaanxi Province

Meichen Lu, Prashant Loyalka , Yaojiang Shi, Fang Chang, Chengfang Liu, Scott Rozelle
Journal of Development Effectiveness , 2019 June 2, 2019

There is a significant gap in academic achievement between rural and urban students in China. Policymakers have sought to close this gap by improving the quality of teaching in rural areas through teacher professional development (PD) programs. However, there is limited evidence on the effectiveness of such programs. In this paper, we evaluate the impact of a PD program-National Teacher Training Program (NTTP)  and find that the NTTP has no effect on math achievement. We also find that while the program has a positive effect on math teaching knowledge of teachers, it has no significant effect on teaching practices in the classroom. Taken together, these results indicate that teachers may have improved their knowledge for teaching from NTTP, but did not apply what they learned to improve teaching practices or student learning.

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Journal Articles

Integrating satellite and climate data to predict wheat yield in Australia using machine learning approaches

Yaping Cai, Kaiyu Guan, David Lobell, Andries B.Potgieter, Shaowen Wanga, Jian Peng, Tianfang Xu, Senthold Assen, Yongguang Zhang, Liangzhi You, Bin Peng
Agricultural and Forest Meteorology , 2019 May 15, 2019

Wheat is the most important staple crop grown in Australia, and Australia is one of the top wheat exporting countries globally. Timely and reliable wheat yield prediction in Australia is important for regional and global food security. Prior studies use either climate data, or satellite data, or a combination of these two to build empirical models to predict crop yield. However, though the performance of yield prediction using empirical methods is improved by combining the use of climate and satellite data, the contributions from different data sources are still not clear.

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Journal Articles

Better Cognition, Better School Performance? Evidence from Primary Schools in China

Qiran Zhao, Xiaobing Wang, Scott Rozelle
China Economic Review, 2019 April 29, 2019

Although students in rural and migrant schools in China generally have not performed well, a share of each cohort has been able to thrive in school and to test into academic high school and college. To understand the origins of persistence, specifically, why some students learn more than do others, researchers have identified certain sources of the problem. Few studies, however, have paid attention to the role that low levels of cognitive development of students play in their academic performance.

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Journal Articles

Global warming has increased global economic inequality

Noah Diffenbaugh, Marshall Burke
Proceedings of the national Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2019 April 23, 2019

Understanding the causes of economic inequality is critical for achieving equitable economic development. To investigate whether global warming has affected the recent evolution of inequality, we combine counterfactual historical temperature trajectories from a suite of global climate models with extensively replicated empirical evidence of the relationship between historical temperature fluctuations and economic growth. Together, these allow us to generate probabilistic country-level estimates of the influence of anthropogenic climate forcing on historical economic output.

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Journal Articles

Past Successes and Future Challenges in Rural China’s Human Capital

Yu Bai, Siqi Zhang, Lei Wang, Ruirui Dang, Cody Abbey, Scott Rozelle
Journal of Contemporary China, 2019 March 26, 2019

This paper describes the current level of human capital in China and seeks to identify a number of education-related challenges that may slow down the nation’s economy from transitioning to high-income status. Relying on recent census-based data from OECD for the rest of the world and using data from the 2015 Micro-Census for China, the authors show that the low levels of education of China’s labour force is really a problem that has its roots in the past (in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s). In recent years (since 2000), China has been investing heavily in education as shown by the increasing the share of youth, including rural youth, attending high school. Despite this recent effort to raise the nation’s human capital, the education system still faces several challenges in trying to provide high-quality education for all youth. First, the government must figure out a way to overcome the relatively low rates of participation in high school by rural students. Second, there is concern that many vocational schools, especially those in rural areas, cannot deliver quality education. Finally, the paper will show that many rural students may be unprepared due to poor early childhood development outcomes.

 

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Journal Articles

Computer Science Skills Across China, India, Russia, and the United States

Prashant Loyalka, Ou Lydina Liu, Guirong Li, Igor Chirikov, Elena Kardanova, Lin Gu, Guangming Ling, Ningning Yu, Fei Guo, Liping Ma, Shangfeng Hu, Angela Sun Johnson, Ashutosh Bhuradia, Saurabh Khanna, Isak Froumin, Jinghuan Shi, Pradeep Kumar Choudhury, Tara Beteille, Francisco Marmolejo, Namrata Tognatta
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2019 March 18, 2019

We assess and compare computer science skills among final-year computer science undergraduates (seniors) in four major economic and political powers that produce approximately half of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics graduates in the world. We find that seniors in the United States substantially outperform seniors in China, India, and Russia by 0.76–0.88 SDs and score comparably with seniors in elite institutions in these countries. Seniors in elite institutions in the United States further outperform seniors in elite institutions in China, India, and Russia by ∼0.85 SDs. The skills advantage of the United States is not because it has a large proportion of high-scoring international students. Finally, males score consistently but only moderately higher (0.16–0.41 SDs) than females within all four countries.

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Case Studies

Luxury or Priority? Ethiopia Wants a Light Rail

Lin Le
2019 February 25, 2019

The Ethiopian government is planning on constructing the country’s first light rail in its capital city Addis Ababa. The project is expected to bring both short-term and long-term benefits: it can help with alleviating the city’s traffic congestion problem, and more importantly, lay the technological foundation for Ethiopia’s grand strategy for a national railway system. Once completed, this modern public transport system will boost the political legitimacy of the incumbent regime.

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Working Papers

Mapping Missing Population in Rural India: A Deep Learning Approach with Satellite Imagery

Wenjie Hu, Jay Harshadbhai Patel, Zoe-Alanah Robert, Paul Novosad, Samuel Asher, Zhongyi Tang, Marshall Burke, David Lobell, Stefano Ermon
AAAI/ACM Conference , 2019 February 20, 2019

Millions of people worldwide are absent from their country’s census. Accurate, current, and granular population metrics are critical to improving government allocation of resources, to measuring disease control, to responding to natural disasters, and to studying any aspect of human life in these communities. Satellite imagery can provide sufficient information to build a population map without the cost and time of a government census.

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Case Studies

Bridging Regions, Strengthening Ties: The East Coast Rail Line (ECRL) in Malaysia

Jennifer Fei
2019 February 14, 2019

Malaysia is a Southeast Asian nation strategically located along major regional trade routes. Its national government must balance intense geopolitical pressures from neighboring countries with the need for domestic economic growth. In an effort to divert trade routes away from Singapore and to increase connectivity between its coasts, Prime Minister Najib Razak has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China to build a Chinese-backed East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) across peninsular Malaysia. As an outspoken Member of Parliament in the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP), Dr.

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