Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Governments behaving badly

I’ve just re-read the excellent paper Institutional challenges in water supply and sanitation in Pakistan: revealing the gap between national policy and local experience (Water Policy 11, 582–597, 2009) by Bahadar Nawab (Department of Development Studies, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Abbottabad, Pakistan) and Ingrid L. P. Nyborg (Department of International Environment and Development Studies, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Ås, Norway). Here’s a quote from the Abstract:

Wide gaps were found between local people’s needs, desires and expectations and government policies and services, between people’s practices and historical and proposed institutions, and between local people’s and policy-makers’ understanding of the issues. The study warrants the formulation of realistic and people-centred water supply and sanitation institutions and engaging local actors in the processes. Along with regulatory mechanisms, the findings argue for the use of cognitive and normative instruments in the implementation of policies while tailor-making solutions to local culture, working together with local actors, rather than imposing solutions on them.

Amazing, isn’t it, that governments still don’t understand what they should do? It’s ain’t rocket science: they just have to work with their people. Over 30 years ago John Kalbermatten realised that the intended beneficiaries had to be part of the sanitation planning process (details here) − clearly a lesson that still needs to be learnt in Pakistan (at least in rural Pakistan, where the study by Nawab and Nyborg was done) and, of course, in many other developing countries.

However, Pakistan is showing the world the way in urban areas − read The Urban Resource Centre, Karachi by Arif Hasan (Environment and Urbanization 19 (1), 275−292, 2007). Here’s part of the Abstract:

The Urban Resource Centre is a Karachi-based NGO ... set up in response to the recognition that the planning process for Karachi did not serve the interests of low- and lower-middle-income groups. … The Urban Resource Centre … has created a network of professionals and activists from civil society and government agencies who understand planning issues from the perspective of these communities. … This network has successfully challenged many government plans that are ineffective, over-expensive and anti-poor and has promoted alternatives. It shows how the questioning of government plans in an informed manner … can force the government to listen and to make modifications to its plans, projects and investments.

So rural Pakistan needs to learn from urban Pakistan. A good NGO shouldn’t find this too overwhelming.

►Clearly an Urban Resource Centre of the type described above is needed not just in Karachi but in almost every developing-country city!