Poorer than Before

Since 1970 I have been involved with development related issues, both at the national and international level. This involvement has been in land, housing, physical and social infrastructure and research into the dynamics of urban growth, especially related to what are known as “lower income groups”. The models that have been promoted through this involvement have been “slum” upgrading, katchi abadi improvement and regularisation, community empowerment and participation, research and development projects, appropriate technology and the application of many of the principles derived from these models for disaster relief and rehabilitation.

All these concepts and much of their implementation methodology has been developed by western academia and promoted by UN agencies in the 60s, 70s and 80s. International Financial Institutions, such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, have converted these fairly simple and easy to deliver models into large scale and complex loan programmes which have increased our international debt considerably. Bilateral institutions have also adopted these models and funded projects around them. These projects disappear when funding stops leaving nothing behind.

The approaches and programmes listed above do not seek to integrate the poor into society as a whole. They treat them as a separate entity that should be satisfied with substandard physical and social infrastructure. Special standards have been developed for low income settlements and these differ considerably from those for the rest of the city. Over the years these programmes and projects have promoted a certain mindset which has become the determining factor for development for poor communities. The application of this mindset has now created two worlds: one of the rich and the other of the poor. These are now two different nations. The hope for upward mobility for the poorest of the poor, that the programmes generated in the 70s and 80s is no more.

Support to and involvement of NGOs in the implementation of these programmes was an important part of their concept. This was because there was a belief that state institutions are corrupt and inefficient and, as such, cannot deliver. The state institutions as such increasingly abdicated their responsibility and in the process became more corrupt and inefficient. Meanwhile, the belief that development can be delivered through foreign funded NGO supported independent projects has led to the creation of many parallel initiatives in the same sector which have never really become a part of a consolidated national sector programme. This has fractured development and has had a devastating effect on national sector programmes. The structural reforms to curb the power of an overbearing bureaucracy and self-serving politicians to make them subservient to some form of participatory processes involving communities and various interest groups, have never been seriously attempted.

Some of the programmes and projects have created impressive islands of community participation and affordable development though the quality of development they have provided can be questioned. However, the growth of these islands increasingly lags far behind the increase in deprived and marginalised populations. Also, by their very nature they have catered to the richer-poor and the trickle down effect to the poorest, that was predicted, has not taken place.

It is customary in seminars and in press articles and reports to blame the seriousness of the rich-poor divide on a self-indulgent elite. But the elite are the same all over the world: they are blind, dumb and insensitive to the concerns of the poor. It is academia, “civil society” organisations, professional institutions, media and labour organisations that give them eyes, a tongue and an understanding. It is networks of such organisations that force structural changes which create more equitable and just societies. Such networks do not exist in Pakistan.

The work of civil society organisations in Pakistan, except for a few important exceptions, consists of applying balm to the wounds created by poverty and deprivation or through charity initiatives some of which have provided enormous relief to the poorer sections of society. However, the need is for the creation of policies and laws, and of rules, regulations and procedures related to them, which can help in the creation of a more just society. A number of policies and laws have been developed but pressure for the creation of institutions and procedures for the effective application have not been developed except in the field of the environment. Here, the national strategy has led to the creations of standards, provincial environmental protection agencies, environmental impact assessments and more recently environmental tribunals. Already communities and civil society organisation have used these institutions and processes for the protection of their physical and social environment. The same process is required for education, health, housing and skilled development.

The crisis of the alienation of the poor from the rich and from the state is serious.

One Comment

  1. Again, an amazing article with crystal clarity on issues and solutions – will be discussing with you soon how I am planning to incorporate your ideas. God bless you Arif bhai.

    Posted January 10, 2023 at 11:58 am | PermalinkReply

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