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Sustainable Communities

Parts of the aid system just don’t work – the dismal cycle of humanitarian response

Duncan Green's picture

Every now and then an email stops me in my tracks, reminding me that Oxfam is stuffed full of bright, motivated, altruistic people. Here’s one I got a few weeks ago from Debbie Hillier, one of our Humanitarian Policy Advisers, in response to my request for thoughts on the state of the aid business. Her views are fleshed out in ‘A Preventable Crisis’, a new report published this week:
 

"Hi Duncan,

Here is a current example of how the aid system doesn’t work.

El Niño events and other droughts are forecast months in advance.  There is of course some uncertainty in the forecasts, but nonetheless, there is often a high probability of a natural hazard.  And with major droughts/El Niño/La Niña, these can affect many millions of people.

So there are situations of high probability and high impact – like the current El Niño.  And these are situations where we know what the solutions are. There are far fewer complicating political factors than in conflict – we know what to do.

If this was the private sector, there would be a significant response at this point. However the aid system does not work like this.

Will forcibly displaced Syrians get their land back?

Paul Prettitore's picture

 ART production / Shutterstock.com

With half the population of Syria forced from their homes as a result of the five-year-long civil war, now living either as refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs), many are asking, “Will we be able to return to our original homes?” Recent changes to the legal framework in Syria governing the sale and purchase of private land raise concerns—both for the protection of land owned or long-occupied by displaced persons and for the development of any post-conflict land restitution process. Such regulations may also compound post-conflict reform of land administration practices and bring uncertainty to one of the few economic assets of displaced households.

The jobs challenges of urbanization in India and Pakistan

Michael Kugelman's picture
Michael Kugelman, guest blogger, is the senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC.
A busy train station in Mumbai, India. Photo: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank

India and Pakistan are urbanizing at remarkably rapid rates. India’s urban population has increased from less than 20 percent of its overall population in 1951 to more than 30 percent today. In Pakistan, the share of the urban population—well under 20 percent in the 1960s, is more than a third today.

The biology of budgeting: to strengthen accountability, think ecosystems

Paolo de Renzio's picture

There are few better ways to reveal whether a government’s rhetoric matches reality than examining how it raises and spends public money. Are funds being spent on the things it said they would be? Are these investments achieving the outcomes that were intended? In short, are government budgets accountable?   

The traditional model for how accountability functions is rather simple. "Horizontal accountability" describes the oversight exerted over the executive arm of government by independent state bodies such as parliaments and supreme audit institutions. "Vertical accountability" describes the influence citizens hold through the ballot box. 

Between elections and outside of formal institutions, however, opportunities for influencing how governments manage public resources are limited. As a consequence, this simple vertical/horizontal model has proved increasingly inadequate for capturing how budget accountability works (or doesn’t) in the real world; this is especially true in developing countries, where democratic processes and formal oversight institutions can be somewhat fragile and ineffective. 

What India’s successful rural development programs can teach the world?

Ethel Sennhauser's picture

In India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, I met young ex-farmers who had moved out of farm jobs and were now working in factories and government offices.  Their day to day circumstances weren’t all that different from millions of others around the world.

But yet, the people I met were remarkable.  There was the disabled young man who, with skills training, found an IT job and a life outside his home, and is now supporting his mother.  There were also women Self Help Group (SHG) members who, with support from their female Panchayat Leader, Pushpa, were helping to better the lives of their communities. They worked to improve water supply, build toilets and boost sanitation, and also found jobs in agro-processing.

My time in India made it clear to me that opportunity can change lives - especially in rural areas, where 78% of the country’s poor people live. 

Opportunity can come in various forms. It can come in the form of social empowerment - by giving voice to groups that are often marginalized, such as women, youth and disabled people.

It can also come in the form of jobs - through skills training, job placement programs and other services that help people secure formal employment. 

Jobs and social empowerment are two different opportunities. But they can be related: They both share transformative effects that are positive, and can multiply in unexpected directions.

For example, as women gain more confidence, their voices are listened to on a variety of matters within the home - such as on family planning and how to spend family incomes - improving the lives of their children and their families. Collectively, the power of their voices expressed through SHGs and other groups can bring about change on a larger scale, impacting the wider community as a whole.
 
Photo credit: Irina Klytchnikova



Jobs, too, are known to have transformative effects. They give people the economic resources to improve their quality of life, open up new opportunities and enable them to engage with the outside world.

Why do people flee their homes? The answers may surprise you

Duncan Green's picture

June 21 was World Refugee Day and a new UN report put the total number of ‘forcibly displaced’ at 65.3 million. Most of those remained within national boundaries (internally displaced). Oxfam researcher John Magrath summarizes a recent study on the causes of internal displacement.

Why do people become displaced? That is, forcibly displaced in that they have, or believe they have, no other choice but to leave their homes? You would think we would know. After all, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) in its latest annual report points out that in 2015 a record number of 27.8 million people were newly displaced; and the reasons were conflict, violence and disasters. We are familiar with the overall picture: the Middle East and North Africa account for over half those displaced by conflict and violence; South and East Asian countries, especially India and China, saw the most people displaced by disasters. Once people are displaced, they tend to stay displaced so the numbers add up cumulatively; in 2015 there were nearly 49 million in total living as internally displaced people just because of conflict and violence.

But dig beneath and beyond those figures, as IDMC does, and an even more disturbing picture emerges of reasons and trends. IDMC puts the spotlight on three issues that demand more attention. One is drought, of the kind exacerbated by this year’s El Niño event. That may seem unsurprising; after all, it is obvious that drought dries up precious water sources and scorches crops and as this moving video from Oxfam in the Dominican Republic shows,  the result is that farmers get into debt and can end up selling their farms – their homes – and becoming wandering labourers.

Empowering Myanmar’s rural poor through community-driven development

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Poverty and isolation create a host of development challenges for Myanmar's rural communities, from poor road connections to lack of clean water and unreliable electricity.
 
Since 2013, the Myanmar National Community-Driven Development Project (NCDDP) has helped improve access to basic infrastructure and services with support from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank's fund for the poorest. The community-driven development (CDD) approach responds well to local development challenges, in that it lets community groups decide how to use resources based on their specific needs and priorities.
 
Implemented by Myanmar's Department of Rural Development, NCDDP now operates in 5,000 villages across 27 rural townships梙ome to over 3 million people梐nd plans to reach about 7 million people in rural communities in the coming year.
 
In this video, Ede Ijjasz and Nikolas Myint reflect on what has been achieved so far, describe some of the challenges they met along the way, and talk about plans to take the NCDDP to the next level.
 
Related:

Integrity Idol: How a reality TV show is changing minds about public service

Roxanne Bauer's picture
In an age when celebrity culture and corruption appear to be omnipresent, it’s quite refreshing to be reminded that there are good people doing good work day in and day out.  These people work in our school systems, hospitals, charities, and as part of government bureaucracy.  Yes, bureaucracy.   

As Blair Glencorse states, “bureaucrats and civil servants can serve citizens in the way that they are supposed to.”  With this in mind, the organization he founded, Accountability Lab, created Integrity Idol, a global campaign run by citizens in search for honest government officials. It aims to “highlight the good people in the system” as way to establish a culture and expectation of honesty and personal responsibility in government postings. Integrity Idol began in Nepal in 2014, spread to Liberia in 2015, and now includes Pakistan and Mali.

The process of selecting an Integrity Idol is participatory from beginning to end. Local teams of volunteers travel across their countries gathering nominations from citizens, hosting public forums and generating discussion on the need for public officials with integrity. From the long list nominees, five are selected in each country with the help of independent panels of experts. These finalists are then filmed and their episodes are shown on national television and played on the radio for a week, and citizens can vote for their favorites through SMS short-codes and on the website. The winner in each country is crowned in a national ceremony in the capital.

Here, Glencorse discusses Integrity Idol back in 2014, when the program was just getting started in Nepal.  Nominations are now open in Pakistan, Nepal, and Mali. To nominate a candidate in one of these countries visit www.integrityidol.org.
 
Integrity Idol: How a reality TV show is changing minds about public service

“Bike & Ride” to a cleaner environment and better health in Rio

Daniel Pulido's picture
Poor “Cariocas” living in the periphery of the Rio Metropolitan Region spend a very long time commuting. People from the city’s outskirts travel, on average, almost 90 minutes a day to and from work. Despite important improvements in the quality of mass transit in the metro region, Rio still has more to do to maximize the accessibility benefits of its recent major investments in rail and bus-based transit systems. Infrastructure still needs to be designed and upgraded to facilitate transfers between different motorized and non-motorized transport modes. And services (municipal and intermunicipal buses) need to be better coordinated and integrated with mass transit modes.

Bicycles can play an important role in solving the first and “last mile” problem (in fact, they offer a solution for the first and last three miles!) and in promoting sustainable transportation. The integrated bicycle-mass transport solution makes public transport much more attractive for users living within a radius of 5 kilometers from a mass transit station. At this distance, it would take a commuter 15 minutes to ride a bike to a station compared to an hour of walking. Not only does bike and rail integration improve quality of life by promoting health and reducing travel times and emissions, it can also result in benefits for transport operators in the form of increased ridership.

For this reason, in addition to financing new energy-efficient trains for the suburban rail system, our Project in Rio is supporting a bike-rail integration program, including financing for the development of the program’s business model and for the acquisition of a small number of bicycles to pilot the venture.
 

Making Disaster Relief More Like Funeral Societies: A Review of Dercon and Clarke’s Dull Disasters

David McKenzie's picture

I was recently at the Novafrica conference in Lisbon, where one of the keynote talks was given by Stefan Dercon. He based it around a newly released short book he has written with Daniel Clarke, called Dull Disasters (open access version). The title is meant to indicate both the aim to make dealing with disasters a dull event rather than media circus, as well as to discuss ways to ‘dull’ or reduce the impact of disasters.
Stefan started his talk by noting that disaster relief may well be the part of the whole international development and humanitarian system that is the least efficient and has had the least research on it. The book starts by noting the predictability of responses “every time a natural disaster hits any part of the world, the newspaper headlines ten days later can be written in advance: ‘why isn’t the response more coordinated?’. He gives the examples of the responses to the earthquakes in Nepal and Haiti, to Hurricane Katrina, and to Ebola as examples. But he then notes the crux of the problem “…The truth is everybody argues for coordination but nobody likes to be coordinated”.


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