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
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
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"
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
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
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