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Communities and Human Settlements

India: Nothing Short of Incredible!

Mohamad Al-Arief's picture

You’ve seen those tourism ads: Incredible India. Since I first arrived in this country a month back, it’s been nothing short of incredible. India can fascinate and overwhelm you at the same time. It is incredible in many ways: its size, its development challenges, its diversity, and its rich cultural heritage.

Luckily for me, I have had the good fortune to experience the latter. India’s cultural heritage dates back thousands of years. And India has managed to preserve it while many others have failed. You don’t need to go deep into the hinterland to experience it. A drive through Delhi alone will take you through several phases of its history. And a four-hour drive out of the capital to Agra will take you back 400 years to the Mughal Empire. Everything is well preserved. And everyone seems to be passionate about preserving this heritage, as evident in the JIYO Exhibition that I’ve just attended.

Moving Towards Fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals in Bangladesh

Joe Qian's picture

In 2000, 192 countries and 23 international organizations agreed to work towards fulfilling the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. Although progress has been uneven between regions and much remains to be done, global poverty rates have been reduced from 52% of the world’s population living under $1.25 a day in 1981 to 26% in 2008.

Bangladesh has been quite successful through taking a multifaceted approach into achieving these goals. Initiatives such as Notun Jibon which means “New Life” in Bengali not only have emphasized community driven development but also stresses the role of women in education and the community decision making process. The country has already achieved gender parity in primary and secondary schooling and is on track to meet the majority of the MDG’s such as halving infant and maternal mortality rates by 2015.

Building Local Institutions to Manage Resettlement Programs for Infrastructure Development

Fabio Pittaluga's picture

I moved to Bangladesh 3 years ago with a lot of excitement as I considered it a sort of mini-laboratory for development theory and practice.

My task was to oversee the Bangladesh portfolio from a social perspective. From day one, there was one issue that came up in almost all projects: land acquisition and resettlement. Once can expect this, given high population densities in a small country. Surprisingly, while there is a lot of debate about shortages of power and electricity for Bangladesh development, little attention is paid to the land issue. But all infrastructure has a footprint and access to land is complex.

This huge challenge was matched by a dearth of professionals to manage social risks. While the market for such services is growing, there was no institution to train people in those disciplines in the country. I could have continued to hire foreign consultants, but that didn’t seem very smart in the long run. So I thought: “let’s establish a course in a local university that would create that capacity over time and train a cadre of professionals capable of conducting a serious social impact assessment, carry out a good consultation process or design a solid resettlement action plan”. My intention was to fill a systemic gap. That could only happen over time, and it could only happen via local institutions.

And so I did.

Can Local Actions Contribute to Climate and Disaster Risk Management?

Darshani De Silva's picture

Climate change is real and likely to drive increasingly dramatic changes in our environment. While ecosystems and disease dispersion may be affected, some of the greatest impacts are anticipated due to increases of extreme climate events such as droughts, floods and storms. We are already seeing these changes but often do not connect them with our lives. The question arises, “should communities wait for our governments to plan, address, and find resources to respond to risks of climate change?" I believe not. Much can be done in small ways through local actions. Keeping this in mind, the Civil Society Fund in Sri Lanka is focusing on “Development and Climate Change – Building Community Resilience in the Dry Zone of Sri Lanka”.

Empowering Local Leaders for Sustainable Development in Bangladesh

Nilufar Ahmad's picture

The Bangladesh Local Governance Support Project (LGSP) was initiated in 2005 when local leaders voiced their demand for discretionary funds among others to serve their constituencies at a meeting. Union Parishad (UP) is the lowest tier of rural local government has a history over 170 years and held regular elections, however, UPs never received direct funding.

Funds were previously allocated by line ministries at the Upazila (sub-district) level for certain activities; neither the local government (UP) nor local people had a say on their own development priorities. The UP act of 1983 designated 38 mandates on the UP, but made no fund provision for carrying out those mandates. The average population of an UP was about 35,000 and UPs are the closest service delivery institutes to citizens. In 1998, an UP amendment ensured direct election of women in three seats.

While the Minister of Local Government was supportive of the project, most of the national political leaders (ministers, members of parliament) and bureaucrats were against autonomous local governments. Nationwide consultations were organized between local leaders and communities, supported by civil society, for mobilizing a united voice of local needs and incorporating these in the project design. It was a challenging time with episodes of violence.

Back to the Future

Eliana Cardoso's picture

Imagine if, in 1799 – the year in which Napoleon seized power – a research institute had published its global forecasts for the next 20 years. Its researchers would have known about the tremendous changes that took place over the previous two decades: from the United States’ declaration of independence, through the French Revolution and the execution of Louis XVI, up to Napoleon’s victory over Austria in his Italy Campaign.

Even so, the chances of the researchers accurately predicting the events that came to pass over the subsequent 20 years, including their impact on the 19th century’s world order, would have been infinitesimal. No one could have anticipated that Napoleon would have plunged Europe into non-stop war for a decade until being overcome at Waterloo, or that, by the time of his defeat, he would already have swept away the foundations of traditional structures and initiated an unstoppable wave of reforms.

Because of its industrial might, this Europe would dominate the rest of the world during the 19th century. When European rivalries exploded into World War One, the face of the earth had already changed considerably compared to the previous century. And, having changed the world, Europe set the conditions for the demise of its own empire. Even before World War One, Teddy Roosevelt had heralded the start of the United States’ ascension to its current hegemony.

Employment Programs By Any Other Name...

Maitreyi Bordia Das's picture

Is it an employment program? Is it an anti-poverty program? Is it a safety net? Is it a disaster management program, is it…..? Actually, it’s all of these. Public works programs are both good development and good politics. India’s National Employment Guarantee Scheme (now called the Mahatma Gandhi EGS) , despite its implementation challenges, is fast becoming the stuff international lore is made of.

Demographers talk of the diffusion effects of ideas of low fertility and other behaviors. And while South Asian countries have a history of public works programs as safety nets – a history that actually goes back to the Maurya Empire in circa 3rd century BC - the diffusion effect of NREGS across South Asia is apparent. This is as much due to the urgent employment needs in all countries in the region, as due to the fact that the Congress victory in India was purported to have hinged significantly on NREGS.

International Women's Day: Why Aren’t We More Concerned About Women’s Physical Safety?

Maitreyi Bordia Das's picture

Fundamental rights in most South Asian countries include freedom of movement – you can go where you want, when you want within a country. But for the majority of South Asian girls and women the reality is very different – they need permission to go almost anywhere. Now, does this stem from norms of patriarchal control or a rational response to threat of physical harm? I like to believe the two are mutually reinforcing. When families are afraid of what will happen to their daughters when they go out alone, they tend to be over-protective or over-controlling. This is certainly what happened to me and my peers as we grew up in Delhi in the 70s and 80s. While many more women are out in public spaces now, the very fact of this visibility is often a trigger for violence. Fewer than half of married women surveyed in Pakistan or Bangladesh feel safe moving alone outside their village or settlement, even during the day (World Bank 2006, 2008).

Safety and security of women in public spaces is seen often as a right, which indeed it is, but, lack of it is also a huge impediment to accessing a range of services and markets – for instance, health care, education and employment. In Pakistan and India, one of the reasons why girls drop out of school after puberty and especially when secondary schools are located a long walk away, is the fear of violence en route.

What Can be Done About Conflict in South Asia?

Ejaz Ghani's picture

What can be done to reduce conflict in poor regions? A speech given by Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh on Internal Security and Law and Order in 2005, sums up the story of conflict and development: “…development, or rather the lack of it, often has a critical bearing, as do exploitation and iniquitous socio-political circumstances. Inadequate employment opportunities, lack of access to resources, under developed agriculture, artificially depressed wages, geographical isolation, lack of effective land reforms may all impinge significantly on the growth of extremism...Whatever be the cause, it’s difficult to deny that extremism has huge societal costs. Investments are unlikely to fructify, employment is not likely to grow and educational facilities may be impaired. Direct costs would include higher costs of infrastructure creation as contractors build "extortions" into their estimates, consumers may be hurt due to erratic supplies and artificial levies. In all, the society at large and people at large suffer. Delivery systems are often the first casualty. Schools do not run, dispensaries do not open and PDS shops remain closed.”

Reducing conflict and violence is a prerequisite to political stability, which, in turn, is the prerequisite for implementing pro growth policies. Even in a best-case scenario, the presence of low-level conflict constrains the policies governments can implement to promote growth. Policy makers in South Asia have tried various policies to reduce conflict.

Reflections on the Chile Earthquake and Disaster Response

Isabel Guerrero's picture

So many feelings and thoughts as I watch and digest the earthquake in Chile…some of them very relevant to understanding the importance of disaster preparedness in South Asia, a region that is exposed to so many natural shocks.

Immediate feelings of admiration and pride. The incredible reaction from Michele Bachelet as the leader of the whole country: less than an hour after the earthquake at the center to manage disasters, gathering the facts, coming out to tell the people of Chile what was happening, and taking a helicopter to the worst affected areas. She was not dramatic. Quite knowledgeable, deferring to the experts on things she didn’t understand, and empathic throughout. Not looking down on people, not overly reassuring, but holding. One felt glad to have her as a President in this moment; sure she would do the right thing. No ego and the right tone.

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