Poorer than before By Arif Hasan - Tuesday 29th March 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/03/29/poorer-than-before.html

SINCE 1970, I have been involved with development-related issues, both at the national and international level. This involvement has been in land, housing, physical and social infrastructure and research into the dynamics of urban growth, especially related to what are known as `lower-income groups`.
The models that have been promoted through this involvement have been `slum` upgrading, kutchi abadi improvement and regularisation, site and services, community empowerment and participation, research and development projects, appropriate technology and the application of many of the principles derived from these models for disaster relief and rehabilitation.
All these concepts and much of their implementation methodology has been developed by western academia and promoted by UN agencies in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. International financial institutions, such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, have converted these fairly simple and easy-to-deliver models into large-scale complex loan programmes which have increased our international debt considerably.
Bilateral institutions have also adopted these models and funded projects around them. These projects disappear when funding stops leaving nothing behind except unfulfilled promises, disillusionment and cynicism. Capacity-building programmes, which were an integral part of these projects and on which huge funds have been spent, have failed to create `capacity`. In this respect, we are poorer than ever before.
The approaches and programmes listed above do not seek to integrate the poor into society as a whole. They treat them as a separate entity that should be satisfied with substandard physical and social infrastructure. Special standards have been developed for low-income settlements and these differ considerably from those for the rest of the city. This is not to say that standards for the rest of the city are appropriate either, but they are different and higher.
Over the years, these programmes and projects have promoted and consolidated a certain mindset which has become the determining factor for development for poor communities. The application of this mindset has now created two worlds: one of the rich and the other of the poor. These are now two different nations. The hope for upward mobility for the poorest of the poor, that the programmes generated in the 1970s and 1980s, is no more. In many countries these programmes have ceased to exist and after the WTO promoted the deregulation of the 1990s, the poor have been asked to access a `market`, which is unaffordable to them.
Support to and involvement of NGOs in the implementation of these programmes was an important part of their concept. This was because there was a conviction that state institutions are corrupt and inefficient and, as such, cannot deliver. The state institutions, as a result, increasingly abdicated their responsibility, and in the process became more corrupt and inefficient.
Meanwhile, the belief that development can be delivered through foreign-funded, NGO-supported independent projects, has led to the creation of many parallel initiatives in the same sector which have never really become a part of a consolidated national-sector programme. This has fractured development which, as a result, has lost coherence and continuity, both required for long-term sustainability.
Some of the programmes and projects have created impressive islands of community participation and affordable development though the quality of development they have provided can be questioned. However, the growth of these islands increasingly lags far behind the increase in deprived and marginalised populations. Also, by their very nature they have catered to the richer-poor, and the trickle-down effect to the poorest, that was predicted, has not taken place.
It is customary in seminars and in press articles and reports to blame the seriousness of the rich-poor divide on a self-indulgent elite. But the elite are the same all over the world: they are blind, dumb and insensitive to the concerns of the poor. It is academia, `civil society` organisations, professional institutions, media and labour organisations that force them to see and understand the need for reform and change and provide them with the instruments for such a change. It is networks of such organisations that force the structural changes which create more equitable and just societies. Such networks do not exist in Pakistan.
The reason why such networks do not exist is because the work of civil society organisations in Pakistan, except for a few important exceptions, consists of applying balm to the wounds created by poverty and deprivation or through charity initiatives many of which are depended on whimsical foreign funding. It is true that some of these organisations have provided enormous relief to the poorer sections of society but they have not attempted to bring about a change in societal relations and values.
Today, more than ever before, the need is for the creation of policies and laws, and of rules, regulations and procedures related to them, which can help in the creation of a more just society.
A number of policies and laws have been developed but pressure for the creation of institutions and procedures for their effective application have not been developed except in the field of the environment. Here, the national strategy has led to the creations of standards, provincial environmental protection agencies, environmental impact assessments, and more recently, environmental tribunals.
Already some communities and civil society organisations have used these institutions and processes for the protection of their physical and social environment. With time, their use and effect will multiply strengthening these institutions further. The same process is required for education, health, housing and skill development. But above all, we need structural reforms to curb the power of an overbearing bureaucracy and self-serving politicians to make them subservient to some form of participatory processes involving various interest groups. So far, such a reform has never seriously been considered though there have been many self-serving attempts at local government reforms.
The crisis of the alienation of the poor from the rich and from the state is serious. Unless this gap is bridged, the present law and order situation, food insecurity, protests and violence, the result of multiple injustices, will continue.
The writer is an architect and planning consultant in private practice.

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