Tuesday, 25 March 2014

A cautionary tale of reconstruction


In 1987 my friend, Paul Starkey, wrote a small book for GTZ called ‘Perfected yet rejected’, sub-titled, ‘a cautionary tale of development’. The book provides a history of research, development and promotion of animal-drawn wheeled toolcarriers. Wheeled toolcarriers are multipurpose implements that can be used for plowing, seeding, weeding and transport. These implements have been universally hailed as "successful" and yet farmer adoption has been extremely disappointing. Farmers have rejected wheeled toolcarriers because of their high cost, heavy weight, lack of manoeuvrability, inconvenience in operation, complication of adjustment and difficulty in changing between modes. Farmer rejection was been apparent since the early 196Os, yet up to the time the book was being written the majority of researchers, agriculturalists, planners and decision makers in national programmes, aid agencies and international centres were under the impression that wheeled toolcarriers were a highly successful technology. These impressions derive from encouraging and highly optimistic reports (Starkey, 1988)

Yesterday, at the inaugural sessions of the Conference on ‘Restoring Communities through Home-Owner Driven Reconstruction: from post-Emergency to Development’ organized by UN Habitat and supported by the European Union, Australian Aid and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), (probably at the cost of a few dozen houses) I was reminded of Paul’s book. It was not so much that Home Owner Driven Reconstruction has been rejected by the ‘beneficiaries’ (as in the tool carrier), but more that it was being idealized as a process by, largely, the donor community. The ceremonial opening, and the inaugural technical session (I didn’t stay for all of it) were a mixture of agency trumpet blowing and endorsement of the Home Owner Driven idea, based on the now rather tarnished concept of ‘participation’, with the refreshing exception of the SDC representative at the opening ceremony who pointed not just to successes but also to the challenges of implementation.

I attended the afternoon session on Ensuring integration and enabling environments, mainly because I wanted to check the reaction to CEPA’s study on indebtedness of housing beneficiaries in the north, presented by Vagisha Gunasekera. It was an interesting and rather eclectic session, including presenters such as Susil Siriwardena, formerly Director of the National Housing Development Authority, and the implementer of President Premadasa’s Million Houses Scheme, Professor Shailaja Fennell, from the University of Cambridge together with the Woman President of the Women’s Development Bank and a lawyer from an international NGO. There was a call for what a speaker in one of the inaugural sessions had named ‘flanking measures’, especially building opportunities for people to engage in productive livelihoods and earn money, if Home-Owner driven reconstruction was to have its intended impact. Vagisha’s point was that while indebtedness was a problem (in that it resulted in reduced food security etc for families) the bigger issue was the inability to repay the loans that families were taking out. Huge denial from the PTF, the Government of India representatives, UN Habitat etc. alongside a vehement interjection from the audience that ‘indebtedness was the single most problem in the North today'.

The objective of the CEPA study, commissioned by SDC, has been, as Paul Starkey says in the preface to his book, “to analyse experiences, good and bad, positive and negative, and to try to draw lessons from these...... the question of “failure” will only arise if people do not make good use of “negative lessons”. I do hope Home Owner Driven Reconstruction will not become that sort of 'failure'

Paul Starkey (1988) Animal-drawn wheeled toolcarriers: perfected yet rejected:a cautionary tale of development, GTZ, Eschborn. ISBN 3-528-020342

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

about cities...

Reading the Metro paper on the tube this morning I learned that Singapore, the city that our planners in Colombo are emulating, is the most expensive city in the world. 

Another news item about the transformation of London’s infrastructure (London is the 16th most expensive city in the world) suggests ideas actually WORTH emulating.  Talking about changes to the road infrastructure it says…

…..  This programme is part of wider plans expected to help create 5,000 new homes and 4,000 new jobs in the area.  A public consultation will begin later this month and work will start early next year. [my emphasis] 

….  In addition, the IMAX roundabout at Waterloo will be redeveloped to create better facilities at Waterloo station as well as improved facilities for cyclists. [my emphasis] 

All this to ensure that London “remains one of the most economically productive, vibrant, accessible and attractive world cities”.

Creating homes not destroying, consulting with citizens, recognising non-motorised transport,  - maybe Boris[1] and Gota ought to have a chat….

[1] Boris Johnson is the Mayor of London

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Competing priorities: a short reflection

Right now, there is a team of us at CEPA working with the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium (SLRC), a DFID funded research consortium led by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), London, on a six year programme looking at three research themes, namely

1.    Legitimacy. What are people’s perceptions, expectations and experiences of the state and of local-level governance? How does the way services are delivered and livelihoods are supported affect people’s views on the legitimacy of the state?

2.    Capacity. How do international actors interact with the state and local-level governance institutions? How successful are international attempts to build state capacity to deliver social protection, basic services and support to livelihoods?

3.    Livelihood trajectories. What do livelihood trajectories in conflict-affected situations tell us about the role of governments, aid agencies, markets and the private sector in enabling people to make a secure living?

Pondering on the first of these themes at a time when the Geneva sessions of the UN Human Rights Council seem to be the major preoccupation of the Sri Lankan government and the media it seems to me to there is a contradiction.   The rationale for this theme derives from the fact that in the international discourse, there is  a focus on state legitimacy, and the donor community's ability to support it, foster it...

for donors, while the steps they can take to influence state legitimacy are few, they do have an interest in developing a clearer understanding of the following: What leads to legitimacy? What, if anything, can they do to strengthen state–society relations? And what might be the (unintended) positive and negative impacts of their programming on state legitimacy if they, for example, route development funding via bodies other than the formal organs of the state? (excerpt from a SLRC report)

But what if there be occasions when some of us (and I don’t mean some donors) do not want to legitimize the state (where the state is not some a-political institution)  and  what about donor actions outside of the development funding sphere (e.g. UNHRC resolutions?) that can have positive or negative consequences (intended and unintended) on state-society relations?