Note for Members of the Government’s Task Force on Poverty Alleviation

1. Poverty Alleviation

At the outset I must say that I consider it a privilege to be a member of the Task Force on Poverty Alleviation. But I must also say that the term poverty alleviation is creating a mindset that increasingly ignores the causes of poverty and seeks only to address their effects. The fact that poverty is the creation of macro and micro level economic and physical planning is ignored.

In the urban areas this mindset has already created a de-facto situation where two different methodologies, one for the rich and the other for the poor, have evolved. They have different standards, technologies and procedures of implementation. For the poor areas, the technologies and standards are still in the process of experimentation and exploration and are as such half baked.

As a result, official plans give the poor areas as compared to the richer areas, less water per capital; poorer road specifications; open drains and soak pits for sanitation instead of underground water borne sewerage; and less public open space for capital although the poorer areas have higher population densities. In addition, in the rich areas private health clinics administer immunization whereas in the poor areas immunization camps are set up although most poor areas also have private practitioners. The architecture of government facilities, for the rich and poor areas also differs considerably. The list of differences in planning standards and procedures is endless. These trends, most of which are now being supported by poverty alleviation programmes, along with the privatisation of university education, are dividing our cities for good and creating conditions for social strife and civic conflict. There is a need, above everything else, to question the financial allocations that considerably favour the richer areas rather than the shared institutional, recreation and cultural spaces of the city centre and the low income residential and work areas. Here it must be said, that unlike the past, there are strong lobbies in the urban areas today that, if supported by legislation, can pressurize the state into changing its inputs and planning processes so that they are more equitable. Unfortunately, most of these lobbies have also started to look at our cities as two separate entities which require two separate forms of development.

In the rural areas, the programmes that are being introduced do not function. This is because the rural population has not evolved to a state that it can respond to these programmes which in any case are not its major priorities.

The methodologies and strategies of a number of important NGO development projects are being promoted for poverty alleviation planning. The fact that the principles and procedures developed by these projects are equally valid for the richer areas of the urban centres and for the more affluent farmers in Pakistan is completely ignored.

The mindset I have described above has entered our universities, research organizations and most NGOs, Pakistan has been invaded by poverty alleviation experts and loads of money for poverty alleviation programmes. I gather that we will soon have poverty alleviation as a subject at the university level and after that we will have our own poverty alleviation experts.

The Task Force on Poverty Alleviation must discuss the issue raised above.

2.  Observations and Possible Actions in the Urban Sector

The observations in this section are based on the work of the Orangi Pilot Project; Urban Resource Centre, Karachi and the Department of Architecture and Planning at the Dawood College, Karachi and their partner organizations working in Hyderabad, Sukkur, Muzaffargarh, Multan, Faisalabad, Lahore, Okara, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi, Sialkot and Mingora.

It has been observed that people in all low income settlements make major investments in water supply, sewage systems, setting up schools and the development of small business enterprises. In addition, they constantly struggle against commercial interests, backed by state agencies, who wish to acquire their open spaces for real estate development. They also struggle against mega projects whose repercussions degrade the environment in which they live and they also struggle for an improvement in the conditions of their work places.

In the case of developing water and sewerage they face three major problems. One, they have no technical assistance for planning and implementation due to which most of their work is substandard and falls apart or requires major reinvestments for maintenance and replacement. Two, at the city level main trunks and/or disposal points have not been properly developed due to which the systems they build constantly run into problems. And three, the rules and regulations of the local bodies and of the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) do not permit them to develop their own infrastructure because of which they constantly face difficulties which are resolved by the payment of bribes.

The solution to the above lies in changing WASA rules and regulations so as to facilitate the work of the communities. In addition, a technical support unit should be created in the WASAs which provides plans, estimates and supervision to the work the communities wish to undertake. Also state agencies should only undertake the development and maintenance of major collector drains, trunk sewers and treatment plants for sewage systems. For water supply the state agencies should only be responsible for source development, treatment and transmission. The rest, both for the rich and the poor areas, should be left to housing societies or community groups. Details for this model are available and have been successfully tested.

In the poorer areas, the presence of health clinics and doctors must be recognized and they must be integrated in any health programme promoted by the state. In addition, the existence of various entrepreneurs and interest groups that provide facilities to the city must also be recognized. In this context one has to mention the problem of solid waste management. The recycling industry is the dominant actor in this drama and informally all local government employees in this sector work for it. Without recognizing its dominant role no solid waste management system can work.

The struggle of poor communities and their not-so-poor supporters for a better environment also needs to be supported by state interventions and by a change in the mechanics of planning. Increasing the capacity and capability of state agencies is not really the issue. Some agencies and their officials have been “over trained” through workshops, conferences, inputs by foreign experts, re-structuring of their agencies and related support programmes, and through university refresher courses at reputed foreign universities that deal with Third World poverty and development. However, all these inputs have made no difference to the performance of the public sector. What is required is the introduction of transparency and accountability in the planning and implementation process and given the high level of awareness and the large number of concerned citizens and other interest groups, this can be achieved and sustained by a few steps that are described below.

All government agencies should publish a list of their real estate assets along with details of their present and proposed landuse. No major landuse change should be possible without a public hearing, the form and procedural aspects of which can be discussed and decided later. In addition, all city level plans should be discussed at their conceptual stage by a steering committee consisting of representatives of relevant formal and informal interest groups, relevant citizens and nominees of professional institutions. The steering committee must have executive powers and their involvement with the project should continue till its implementation. All projects must be publicized along with a detailed break-down of costs.

The above recommendations would go a long way to make planning more appropriate to the needs of the city as a whole, save valuable land from land grabbers and developers, curtail environmental degradation and prevent financial mismanagement and promotion of grandiose projects supported by huge unreturnable loans from international funding agencies. This in-turn would greatly benefit the lower income groups and over a period of time narrow the gap, at least in alienation terms, between the rich and the poor. These recommendations would also make it difficult for foreign and local commercial organizations or international consultants to promote projects that serve their financial interests rather than the needs of the city and society as a whole. Many projects that are being implemented today are the result of such clandestine promotional activity and the support given to it by government agencies.

In Karachi, sufficient knowledge and experience of alternative planning already exists along with relevant institutions, to make the above described process successful. From Karachi it can be exported to the other cities of Pakistan, just as all the bad planning practices have been exported from Karachi to the other cities.

The suggestions given above are in addition and not an alternative to the suggestions that were explored in the meeting of 24 April 1997.

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