Poverty and Development Division
last updated : 20 December 1999
|Contents||Introduction||Preface||SAARC project||Annex (user's guide)|
Although the Asian and Pacific region has achieved remarkable economic and social progress, and a significant reduction in the incidence of absolute poverty, it remains the habitat of two-thirds of the poor people living in all developing countries. This is most observable in South Asia, where the extent of absolute poverty is considerably higher than in other Asian subregions. Therefore the Governments of the South Asian countries attach a high priority to poverty alleviation, which is reflected in their adoption of many programmes that target the poor. A large number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are also involved in implementing similar programmes.
Such programmes, while often conceived at the national level, are implemented at the district level and relate to diverse areas such as health, credit, employment creation and training. The resulting multiplicity of poverty alleviation programmes thus requires the strengthening of coordination among the implementing agencies in order to better exploit the synergy between them and to reduce the duplication of activities. It has also been observed that the target groups frequently do not have the opportunity to participate in the design or implementation of poverty alleviation programmes which are intended to benefit them. As a result, the programmes often do not address the real needs of the poor and consequently they face problems in utilizing the benefits offered by such programmes.
The need to find an appropriate modality for improving coordination among agents implementing poverty alleviation programmes in a particular district, as well as enhancing beneficiary participation in programme design and implementation, provided the rationale for the project entitled "SAARC Seven Sisters: District Development Coordination and Improved Poverty Project Design". Under that project five district forums, one in each of five selected South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member countries (Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) were set up. Each forum comprised representatives of agents (governmental and non-governmental) and beneficiaries of poverty alleviation programmes, and functioned under the leadership of either the chief of the district administration or a senior government official nominated by the national Government. In all five forums, special attention was given to the representation of women (from among both beneficiaries and agents) in order to secure a proper gender balance in forum composition. The five forums are now fully functional and are undertaking a number of important activities related to the alleviation of poverty in their districts.
Given the similarities in the basic causes underlying poverty in the countries of South Asia, as well as the existence of a variety of approaches and institutional arrangements for solving them, there was scope for mutually beneficial sharing of experiences among the district forums. Towards that end, therefore, a subregional network of district forums was established. The network also served several other important purposes, including the opportunity to share, and learn from, each otherÕs experiences, and to discuss common issues and devise appropriate solutions. The network activities also enhanced visibility and attracted the attention of national policy makers, and subregional and international organizations such as SAARC, thus providing a strong impetus to the district forums.
This publication documents and analyzes the modalities of creating and operating the district forums, as well as their achievements in poverty alleviation. Activities of the subregional network of district forums are also presented. It will be noted that this experiment with institution-building at the local level, with the objective of enhancing the effectiveness of poverty alleviation, has been extremely cost-effective since it has not involved the creation of any new bureaucracy. In many cases the forums were recognized by the respective Governments as local-level bodies for coordinating district-level poverty alleviation activities. All the participating countries shared the view that the model, which comprised the district forums and their network for improving district development coordination and poverty project design, deserved replication in other districts of the SAARC countries. Thus the implication is that the model can also yield useful results in other countries. It is hoped that this publication will be of considerable assistance to those attempting to replicate the model.
The SAARC Seven Sisters: District Development Coordinated and Improved Poverty Project
Design scheme was funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), executed
by the United Nations Office of Project Services (UNOPS) and implemented by the Economic
and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). The contributions by UNDP and
UNOPS are gratefully acknowledged.
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