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Achieving results against the odds in violent contexts

Richard Hogg's picture
Afghan children walk pass a bombed bus in 2016, Mohammad Ismael/ REUTERS


In Afghanistan violence is a daily fact of life. The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan released their 2016 Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Afghanistan in February, which documented 11,418 casualties in 2016, a 3% increase since 2015, including 3,498 deaths. Child casualties rose by almost a quarter (24%)—to 923 killed and 2,589 wounded. As a result, there are always lots of questions about how you deliver services in parts of the world like Afghanistan that are affected by ongoing, day to day violence.

Increasingly we live in a world where poverty and violence are deeply interconnected, and if we are to affect the former we have to deal with the latter. But both services and violence come in so many different forms that disentangling the relationship is tough. What works in one context may not work in another. It is too easy to say that nongovernmental organizations are best at delivering services in situations where state authority is contested, just as it may be false to suggest that state delivery of services is always likely to build state legitimacy in the eyes of citizens. The relationships between service delivery and violent conflict are more nuanced than this on the ground and require context-specific analyses that try to understand the nature of the political settlements around conflict, what drives violence and what is the nature of the bargains being struck by local and national elites that either allow or block service delivery.

Well, we have recently tried to do this in a new publication which has just come out, called “Social Service Delivery in Violent Contexts: Achieving Results Against the Odds”.  The report tries to disentangle what works and what doesn’t based on research in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nepal. It probes how social service delivery is affected by violent conflict and what the critical factors that make or break successful delivery are. 

The research shows clearly that successful delivery requires compromises and trade-offs that often require negotiation between service providers, local communities, and insurgents on the ground and challenge our orthodox assumptions about “good governance”.

Specifically, the report outlines five major recommendations:

  1. think and work in a more politically savvy manner;
  2. tailor social service delivery to different forms of violence, especially at the subnational level;
  3. take elites, and bargains between them, more seriously in program design and implementation;
  4. rethink donor rules and incentives to align to these new realities; and
  5. push the frontiers of research to develop new fit-for-purpose models of service delivery in violent contexts. 

While difficult to put into practice, we believe these recommendations cannot be ignored, as progress in basic service delivery in violence-affected contexts will make or break global efforts to end poverty and increase shared prosperity over the coming decades.

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