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Continue the debate

Continue the debate

The Editor,

In a recent issue of the Phnom Penh Post (Jan 12 - 25) on development, my opinions

and comments were quoted a few times. Either due to the hurried nature of our conversation

or due to my lack of competence in the English language, they appear somewhat different

from what I intended to communicate.

When I said big projects operate in a vacuum I meant that the planners of these projects

often neglect local resources and wisdom and pretend that there was nothing before

they came.

Many "development" agencies seem to be in a hurry to implement "projects".

They hardly spend any time in defining the problems or understanding the resource

use conflicts.

Short supply of goods and services is emphasized and structural causes of poverty

like insecure land tenure and illegal tax collection etc. are neglected.

The coping strategies of vulnerable communities and their knowledge of local resources

are also neglected or overlooked.

Such selective vision results in projects that often destroy indigenous cultures

and increase dependency, insecurity and exploitation. This is what I meant when I

said that "big projects often start from zero".

My comments about local media, specially television, were not about showing people

how to help themselves. I complained that much coverage is given to the distribution

of aid by government and non-government agencies but hardly any examples are shown

of people and communities who are trying out new ideas, who are helping themselves

and supporting each other and not waiting for someone to come and "develop"

them.

I enjoyed reading the different opinions published in the article and would like

to thank you for initiating a lively debate.

I feel however that the debate on development aid today is not really about scale

of the projects. The real debate is about priorities (whose needs and which needs

should be met first? How to choose among different options?); about processes (how

to allow the intended beneficiaries to define their needs and make informed choices

among different options); and about appropriate roles (sharing of responsibilities

between central and local authorities, between government agencies and NGOs, academic

institutions etc).

Most of the UN agencies, many bilateral and multilateral aid agencies including the

World Bank agree now with the non-government development organizations that poverty

alleviation (and reduction of hunger, disease etc.) is the main goal of development.

Consequently it is obvious that the satisfaction of basic needs should have first

call on natural and other resources (especially those which are limited in supply).

The same agencies also declare their faith in decentralised and transparent decision

making processes, participatory planning, community-based management of natural resources

etc.

The Royal Government's policy paper presented last year in the Paris ICORC meeting

also stated the same strategics and principles.

On the conceptual level therefore there's hardly any debate and the arguments are

at the operational level.

Are we willing to put our money where our mouths are? How successful have our projects

been in reducing poverty, protecting natural resources and poor people's access to

those and ensuring people's participation in development planning ?

Let us continue the dialogue.
- Ardhendu S. Chatterjee, Technical Adviser, SARD Programme, JVC Cambodia

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