at the Regional High-level Meeting
in preparation for Istanbul+5 for Asia and the Pacific,
19 to 23 October 2000
Hangzhou, People’s Republic of China
The purpose of this paper is to generate discussion and debate
on urban poverty and approaches to its alleviation. Consequently
this paper makes strong statements and tries to argue its case
from the perspectives of the urban poor. The positions taken and
arguments made are not new and may be found in the current development
literature. They are also not comprehensive and may be just one
side of the coin. Other positions and arguments may be just as
valid. Participants at the High-level Regional Meeting are encouraged
to voice their views on the issues raised and approaches suggested
in this paper during the various symposia.
While the issue of poverty has been the direct or indirect focus
of development initiatives in Asia and the Pacific since the end
of the colonial era (1940s to 1950s), the issue of urban poverty
has gained prominence only in the last two to three decades. Two
basic “levels” or “types" of poverty are identified in the
development literature: absolute poverty and relative poverty.
Simply put, absolute poverty is defined as the cost of the minimum
necessities needed to sustain human life. The World Bank currently
regards people earning less than US$ 1 a day (in 1993 purchasing
power parity) to be absolutely poor. Relative poverty is defined
as the minimum economic, social, political and cultural goods
needed to maintain an acceptable way of life in a particular society.
The European Union defines the relatively poor as “... persons,
families and groups of persons whose resources (material, cultural,
social) are so limited as to exclude them from the minimum acceptable
way of life in the member state in which they live.”
Terms such as poverty eradication and poverty alleviation are
often used interchangeably in the development literature. Before
discussing causes, aspects, policies and approaches to either
eradicating or alleviating poverty, it is important to distinguish
what these terms imply. While absolute poverty can be eradicated,
relative poverty can only be alleviated, because what is minimally
accepted today may vary over time, from villages to urban areas
and from country to country. Relative poverty also varies with
levels of economic development, and the perceptions and expectations
of the majority on what is minimally acceptable. For example,
while clean piped water may be a minimum acceptable standard of
living in a city, it may not be a minimum requirement in a village.
Similarly, while possessing a telephone may be a minimum necessity
in a country like the United States, it may not be a minimum requirement
in a country like India. Likewise while Internet connections may
not be a minimum necessity in India today, they may become a minimum
necessity ten years from now. This paper, while addressing both
absolute and relative poverty, focuses more on relative poverty
because it is more prevalent in cities of Asia and the Pacific.
The Three Aspects of Poverty
Poverty essentially has three closely interrelated aspects: “poverty
of money”, “poverty of access” and “poverty of power.” These make
the working, living and social environments of the poor extremely
insecure and severely limit the options available to them to improve
their lives. Without choices and security, breaking the cycle
of poverty becomes virtually impossible and leads to the marginalization
and alienation of the poor from society.
Poverty of Money
The most prevalent means of measuring poverty have been and continue
to be those related to money. Measures such as poverty lines and
Gini-coefficients are used to measure absolute and relative poverty
in terms of incomes and affordability. They are prevalent because
such measurements are relatively easy to make and quantify.
However, the lack of money is more a symptom of poverty rather
than its cause. In most cases, the poor are not without an income;
what they lack is the ability to accumulate assets, which is a
key ingredient to the creation of wealth and breaking the cycle
Besides their low earnings, the prime reason for their inability
to accumulate assets and thus increase their security of income
is that their profits or potential savings are often appropriated
by moneylenders who charge usurious interest rates, by formal
and informal regulatory and enforcement agents or organizations
who demand bribes or extort protection money, and by middlemen
or other stronger business partners who exploit the poor because
they lack market information or the ability to use that market
information to increase their own incomes.
Another key reason that prevents the poor from accumulating capital
is that they are often forced to purchase public goods and services
that are readily available to other groups in society at market
or below market prices, at much higher costs.
Poverty of Access
Most of Asia’s urban poor live in overcrowded and unsanitary
slums and squatter settlements and often do not have access to
basic infrastructure and services. They are forced to live in
illegal and informal settlements because they cannot enter formal
land and housing markets. The reasons for the formation of slums
and squatter settlements are numerous and have been discussed
extensively in the development literature. It suffices to say
here that, because of the way formal markets are regulated and
structured, the poor are unable to afford the choices offered
to them in these markets. In contrast, the informal and illegal
housing markets of slums and squatter settlements are specifically
geared to meet their shelter needs.
However, like other informal markets, the informal land and housing
market is exploitative and has several negative impacts. First
and foremost, informal settlements are often located on marginal
land (along river-banks, railway lines, steep slopes and on or
near garbage dumps) and are prone to natural and man-made disasters.
They are also often illegal and those living there do not have
security of tenure. Because of their illegal status, they are
often not provided with formal basic infrastructure and services
such as piped water, electricity, wastewater disposal and solid
waste collection by government agencies and organizations. They
have to purchase these in informal markets, often paying much
more than higher-income groups. Studies in several cities of Asia
and the Pacific have shown that the poor end up paying two to
five times as much for informal access to public goods and services
than higher-income groups.
Because there is often no security of tenure in illegal settlements
and the fear of imminent eviction exists, the poor do not invest
in improving either their housing or their settlements. The lack
of basic environmental infrastructure and locations on marginal
land often translate into higher rates of disease and lower life
spans. The consequent higher medical bills, lost working days
and early demise of income earners further expropriate their marginal
income and cements the cycle of poverty.
Similarly, children of the poor are unable to access good education.
Often the standards and facilities of the educational institutes
they can afford are lower than those available to children of
higher-income groups. Moreover, poor children often drop out of
school earlier to support their families. Poor education also
contributes to entrenchment of the cycle of poverty.
Poverty of Power
The poor suffer from both traditional and modern environmental
health risks in urban areas. They suffer from diseases associated
with poor sanitation, lack of clean water, overcrowded and poorly
ventilated living and working environments, as well as from modern
risks caused by air and industrial pollution. While the poor suffer
the most from dysfunctions in cities, they are the least able,
as individuals, to influence how cities are governed.
In many Asian cities, both the formal structures of government
and the culture of governance tend to exclude the poor from decision-making
and tend to concentrate decision-making among a small number of
formal and informal elite. The poor have a greater possibility
to influence decision-making under conditions of good governance,
i.e., a system of government and a culture of governance that
is participatory, inclusive, consensus-oriented, based on the
rule of law, responsive to the needs of the population, efficient,
transparent and accountable.
Another important aspect of power is information. The poor often
lack access to information that they can use to advance their
case when dealing with other actors in the city. Even when information
is available, it is often in media and forms that are either not
accessible to nor understandable by the poor.
The extent and nature of poverty, as defined by its three aspects
and its impact on marginalizing and alienating segments of the
urban society, are difficult to measure. UNDP’s Human Development
Index is an attempt to compile and compare all the above aspects
of poverty. As the Human Development Report of 1999 shows, the
extent and nature of poverty vary considerably in countries of
Asia and the Pacific, and that of urban poverty varies considerably
between countries, between rural and urban areas, among urban
areas within a particular country, among neighbourhoods of a given
urban area and even within neighbourhoods.
Poverty also has a gender dimension. In most countries, the poorest
of the poor tend to be households headed by women. Even within
the family unit, the poverties of money, access and power vary
based on gender, with women and female children suffering more
than their male counterparts. Thus to meaningfully measure poverty,
disaggregated data and information are often needed, which in
many countries do not exist.
Urban Poverty and the Habitat Agenda
The Habitat Agenda, adopted by the Second United Nations Conference
on Human Settlements in 1996, addresses eradication of poverty
as one of the ten overarching goals and principles to guide actions,
policies and programmes on human settlements. Chapter II (Goals
and Principles) paragraph 28 states:
“The eradication of poverty is essential for sustainable human
settlements. The principle of poverty eradication is based on
the framework adopted by the World Summit for Social Development
and on the relevant outcomes of other major United Nations conferences,
including the objective of meeting the basic needs of all people,
especially those living in poverty and disadvantaged and vulnerable
groups, particularly in the developing countries where poverty
is acute, as well as the objective of enabling all women and men
to attain secure and sustainable livelihoods through freely chosen
and productive employment and work.”
Commitments to poverty alleviation are dispersed throughout the
Habitat Agenda in Chapter III entitled Commitments (sections on
Adequate Shelter for All, Sustainable Human Settlements, Enablement
and Participation, and Financing Shelter and Human Settlements).
In its commitments, the Habitat Agenda also addresses the above
three aspects of poverty.
Globalization and its Impacts on the Urban Poor
While developing countries have been struggling to alleviate
poverty for some time now, they are also facing new challenges
posed by globalization. There are two fundamental and interrelated
globalization trends sweeping the region at present: globalization
of economies and globalization of information. Both these trends
are fundamentally changing not only the economies of the countries
of Asia and the Pacific, but also their environments, cultures
and societies. These trends are likely to affect the urban poor
adversely as they threaten to widen the gap between the “haves”
and the “have-nots” in society. Those with capital and access
to information and the ability to translate that information into
economic, political and social gain, will benefit from globalization.
Since the poor do not have capital and are often unable to access
information, they are likely to be further impoverished and marginalized.
Globalization of economies is forcing developing countries to
restructure their economies to make them more competitive in the
global market by “right-sizing government”, and reducing or eliminating
subsidies, and by privatizing government-owned firms and enterprises.
Government budget cuts, particularly in areas such as education
and health, have reduced the level of services available to some
of the poor. The removal of most subsidies will probably not adversely
affect a majority of the poor since they do not have access to
them in the first place. What will perhaps indirectly and adversely
affect the poor are the massive lay-offs that accompany “right-sizing
governments” and privatizing government-owned firms and enterprises.
While this would most likely benefit the overall economy in the
medium and long term by creating new and higher paying jobs, experience
has shown that, in the short term, low skilled and hence low-paid
laid-off staff are pushed into poverty and use their severance
allowances, if they receive any, to either seek employment in
the informal sector or start micro-enterprises, increasing competition
in the informal sector, which is already highly competitive.
Moreover, integration in the global economy also means increased
vulnerability of economies to downturns in global markets. Decades
of achievements in social development and poverty alleviation
can be wiped out in months and can lead to social and ethnic unrest
as was amply demonstrated in the case of Indonesia.
Globalization of economies is also reducing the power of national
governments to manage their own economies, particularly by forcing
countries to remove both open and hidden trade barriers and open
their markets to competition from other countries, particularly
from trans-national corporations (TNCs). In a more free trade
environment, TNCs are likely to dominate local markets. TNC-induced
job creation (jobs created by TNCs or in response to competition
with TNCs) is likely to become more technology- and capital-intensive.
In other words, TNCs and local firms competing with them would
most likely create fewer jobs, at greater costs, for the more
highly educated and skilled among the labour force. A labour force
that is illiterate or just literate would probably not be a sufficient
criterion to either attract foreign direct investment or compete
in the global market.
Concurrent with the trend towards globalization of economies
is the trend towards globalization of information, which affects
the economies, societies and cultures of the region more fundamentally.
E-commerce and related telecommunications sectors are the fastest
growing segments of the world economy. Large companies are increasingly
positioning themselves to compete in the new knowledge-based global
economy which requires a highly educated and skilled workforce.
On the positive side, globalization of information is also enabling
communities and civil society organizations to access information,
exchange experiences and advocate their cases more freely. They
can build partnerships, not only within their own countries, but
also internationally, to become part of or initiate “social movements”
that advocate change. However, while civil society organizations,
including those working with the poor, have been greatly empowered
by the globalization of information, the same cannot be said for
most of the organizations of the poor.
Globalization of information also means greater exposure to consumerism
and higher expectations among urban populations, which, given
the above trends, are unlikely to be met for a majority of the
urban poor. Higher expectations that remain unachievable can become
causes for social, ethnic and religious violence.
If present trends continue in developing countries of the Asia-Pacific
region, those who have access to capital and information, and
can translate that information into economic and social gain,
will benefit. This means that a highly educated and information
savvy minority of the labour force would benefit the most, while
a majority of the labour force, particularly in countries of South
Asia, that are not even literate, let alone e-literate, would
be marginalized. Thus the gap or “digital divide” between the
rich and the poor would widen considerably.
Towards Alleviating Urban Poverty
Policies or strategies aimed at alleviating urban poverty have
to address its three components: poverty of money, poverty of
access and poverty of power. The following sections discuss some
strategies to achieve this.
Alleviating the Poverty of Money
Globalization of economies and information cannot be reversed.
While minor adjustments to the global financial system, such as
curbing the flow of “hot money”, may perhaps be made, no country
can completely remove itself from the global economy and expect
to sustain economic growth and development. Globalization threatens
to increase the gap between the rich and poor unless specific
interventions are undertaken by governmental and civil society
These interventions include supporting and integrating the economies
of the poor into the formal economy at city, country and global
levels; providing the necessary infrastructure and increasing
both literacy and e-literacy as widely as possible to create the
basis for a knowledge-based economy; and promoting community and
trade-based safety-nets to assist the poor in weathering cyclical
economic downturns, which are likely to increase in frequency
as countries restructure their economies and become more integrated
in the global market.
Integrating the Economies of the Poor
Microenterprises of the poor provide valuable services to other
poor and higher-income groups. Regulatory frameworks and market
structures often restrict and hamper providers of such micro-services.
For example, in the prepared food industry, instead of recognizing
that the market comprises a wide spectrum stretching from high-end
restaurants and precooked-packaged food to street-side food vendors,
regulations in many cities exclude and discriminate against the
lowest and most vulnerable end of the market. However, this situation
is changing in some countries, most notably in Thailand and Malaysia.
Cities in these countries have not only facilitated street-side
food vending by allocating space beside the street and in open-air
food courts, but also regulated it by requiring minimum standards
of hygiene and waste disposal.
Solid waste management is a key issue not only for the city as
a whole but also for the poor, because many of them are involved
in the collection and recycling of waste. The traditional approach
to solid waste management seeks to dispose of waste. Several pilot
projects have been initiated by governmental and non-governmental
organizations that seek to extract “cash from trash”, by decentralizing
waste disposal, recycling inorganic wastes and composting organic
wastes through partnerships among communities, waste-pickers and
government. Ways and means of incorporating informal sector waste
collection and recycling into the formal waste collection system,
and the feasibility of such decentralized community-based waste
collection-and-disposal mechanisms, need to be studied further.
Local governments and non-governmental organizations in Indonesia
have made a major effort to integrate the informal waste-pickers
in the formal solid waste management systems of cities like Surabaya
and Bandung. Alternatives to picking waste at dumpsites were provided
by organizing and regulating waste-pickers into “yellow brigades”
which received official recognition for their valuable service
role in the city. Vending spaces on designated streets were also
provided to encourage the sale of used and recycled items. Partnerships
with various neighborhood associations and waste-pickers were
also organized to facilitate decentralized and community-based
recycling and composting.
Evidence, particularly from the garment industry in South and
Southeast Asian countries, shows that economies of the poor are
already linked to the global market. Garment manufacturers often
subcontract the manufacture of specific parts to either individuals
or small workshops based in slums and squatter settlements, residents
of which in Karachi, Dhaka and Jakarta make various parts of skirts,
pants, sweaters and shirts, bought by consumers in New York, London
and Paris. While this process provides income to the urban poor,
it is also exploitative, with the majority of the value-added
reaped by retailers and middlemen rather than the urban poor.
Similar linkages between the economies of the poor and the global
economy exist in other industries where subcontracting is practiced.
Where such linkages exist or can potentially exist, they should
be strengthened and promoted. However, care should be taken to
remove the exploitative aspects of these relationships, by promoting
collective mechanisms that would strengthen the power of the poor
to negotiate increased returns for their labour and enterprises
vis-à-vis other actors.
Moreover, e-commerce provides enormous opportunities for directly
linking the micro-manufacturing of the poor to businesses and
consumers in developed economies. While the individual micro-entrepreneur
may find it beyond his or her capacity to establish such links,
groups of micro-entrepreneurs, perhaps as cooperatives, could
enter such relationships. Examples of such arrangements could
be, for example, cooperatives of small-scale manufacturers from
labour-intensive sectors, such as garments, sports goods, handicrafts
and carpets, entering into direct relationships with large-scale
retailers or manufacturers in developed countries. This is an
unexplored area and considerable action research through pilot
projects may be needed to develop its potential.
Providing Access to Credit
A major constraint that micro-enterprises of the poor often face
is access to credit at market rates. While formal sector credit
institutions have found the poor unbankable, several community-
and trade-based savings and credit groups have proven that not
only are they bankable, but that they are much more likely to
repay their loans than upper-income groups. Experiences of Grameen
Bank in Bangladesh, SEWA and Mahila Melan in India, SUPF in Cambodia,
ENDA in Viet Nam and SIPSACRES in the Lao People’s Democratic
Republic, show that many micro-entrepreneurs joining these schemes
not only break the cycle of poverty for their own families but
also create employment in their communities.
Investing in the Knowledge-based Economy
However, while alleviating absolute poverty, all these efforts
may fail to alleviate relative poverty if the infrastructural
and human resources base for the sustainable and rapid growth
of the knowledge economy is not created. Massive investments in
information and communication infrastructure and power generation
and distribution networks need to be made, particularly in wireless
communication and micro-power generation. Liberalizing and promoting
a competitive environment in the telecommunication and power generation
and distribution markets can most effectively achieve this.
Another key component to advancing the knowledge-based economy
is promoting e-literacy. A concerted drive is needed to increase
the levels of conventional literacy, particularly in South Asia
and some countries of Southeast Asia, as well as increase the
levels of e-literacy. This could be done by providing financial
incentives and support to private sector institutions that promote
e-literacy, introducing e-education in a majority of public schools,
as is being done in Malaysia and Thailand, and providing Internet
access at post offices and public call offices as is being done
in certain parts of Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
Promoting Community-based Safety-nets
For reasons cited earlier, government subsidy programmes established
to protect the poor often do not reach them. Community-based safety-net
systems, such as community-based health, life and unemployment
insurance and scholarship funds, may be more effective in protecting
the poor from economic downturns, illnesses or death in the family.
However, while some pilot projects are being undertaken in Thailand,
this area needs to be studied and explored more extensively.
Alleviating the Poverty of Access
Experience in the region has shown that the poor invest considerable
amounts of capital in the housing and infrastructure of their
settlements if they have security of tenure. However, often such
housing and infrastructure could be greatly improved by providing
the poor with access to improved technical skills and know-how.
Some governments have enacted laws and initiated programmes that
recognize and build upon the investments that the poor make in
their own housing and settlements. Recognition of the existing
investments of the poor in their settlements has resulted in squatter
settlement regularization and land sharing schemes in many countries
of the region.
An interesting example is that of the Province of Sindh in Pakistan,
which has enacted the Katchi Abadi (informal settlements) Regularization
Act and established the Sindh Katchi Abadi Authority (SKAA). Simply
put, the law states that an informal settlement on land owned
by the government, that is not marginal and that has not been
earmarked for essential infrastructure development or public use,
would be regularized. Residents living in the settlement before
a particular cut-off date would be provided security of tenure
provided they pay for the cost of unserviced land, provide internal
infrastructure on a self-help basis and pay the partial cost of
external or bulk infrastructure. The SKAA, learning from the experience
of the Orangi Pilot Project, organizes residents into community-based
organizations and provides technical assistance for provision
and improvement of internal infrastructure by the people themselves.
One of the key principles in this approach is the minimizing of
subsidies to the poor.
In addition to regularization of existing settlements, it is
important to plan for low-income housing for the rural poor migrating
to urban areas, natural population increase in existing slums
and squatter settlements and relocation of informal settlements
from marginal, private land or from land needed for key infrastructure
development. Experience has shown that such schemes are successful
if communities are involved in their planning, design and implementation,
and if these schemes seek to preserve and improve the economic,
social and cultural mechanisms and community support structures
of the poor.
Alleviating the Poverty of Power
Supporting Collective Mechanisms
Experience from the region has shown that whenever the poor have
been organized, united and in possession of technical and managerial
skills, they have improved their own conditions and broken the
cycle of poverty. They have resisted stronger groups, been able
to influence decision-making and build equitable partnerships
with governments and other actors in society. Several non-governmental
organizations have made valuable attempts to catalyze coalitions
of the poor in the form of slum and squatter dwellers’ federations,
rickshaw pullers’ associations and hawkers’ welfare cooperatives.
These coalitions have strengthened the bargaining positions of
the poor and have assisted them in building beneficial partnerships.
Experience has also shown that many of the collective mechanisms
of the poor have been short-lived, particularly those that developed
in response to external threats such as evictions, or around a
particular issue such as provision of water or housing. Often
once the external threat was resolved, these community-based organizations
disintegrated. While making important contributions, such organizations
are often transitory in the struggle to break the cycle of poverty.
On the other hand, community-based organizations and collective
mechanisms that are developed around issues of long-term concern,
and that are able to engage the poor continuously and sustainably,
such as community or trade-based savings and credit schemes, have
a greater potential for empowering the poor and breaking the cycle
of poverty. This is because they create a core, organized group
within communities around which other issues of common concern
can be discussed and addressed by activating other community members.
Another reason for the failure of organizations of the poor is
a lack of skills in the operational and financial management of
organizations, in group interaction and in negotiation and consensus-building.
Governmental and non-governmental organizations that assist the
urban poor in acquiring such skills help to empower them. In contrast,
those who speak on behalf of the poor or provide them with services,
while doing valuable short-term work, often tend to make the poor
dependent on them.
Increasing Access to Information
One of the key components of power and wealth creation is access
to information and knowledge and the ability to use that information
or knowledge for economic or social gain. Programmes and initiatives
that seek to provide information to the poor in easily understood
media and forms greatly contribute to their empowerment.
A free flow of information also contributes to transparency in
decision-making. Some governments in the region, for example,
now require public hearings before large infrastructure projects
are initiated. Even where such public hearings are impartial,
the poor are often unable to participate or influence decision-making
because they do not have the financial or human resources to interpret
the information provided. Some non-governmental organizations
and academic institutions are working to fill this gap. Most notable
among these initiatives are urban resource centers (URCs). The
URC approach links non-governmental organizations and academic
institutions to analyze and evaluate trends and the feasibility
and impacts of programmes and projects in the city, and where
needed, to work out alternative solutions to governmental proposals.
This information is then provided in an understandable form to
the groups and communities that would most likely be affected.
Equipped with such information, several poor communities have
been successfully able to resist projects that were either unnecessary
or whose negative impacts would have been far greater than their
While considerable progress has been made in alleviating urban
poverty in most countries of the region, most efforts have been
ad hoc and fragmented. Sustaining and intensifying efforts to
alleviate urban poverty require substantial capacity-building,
particularly in the public or governmental sector, among the organizations
of the poor themselves and among the civil society organizations
that work towards empowering the poor. Capacity-building, as defined
here, has essentially two aspects: institutional change and human
Institutional change, encompassing regulatory, fiscal and organizational
frameworks, needs to focus on creating an environment that empowers
the poor to address their problems and become an integral rather
than a marginal part of the city. This includes removing barriers
that restrict their access to finance, housing, infrastructure,
education and other urban services. It also includes encouraging
them to organize themselves and to acquire skills and information
to enable them to enter into equitable partnerships with other
actors in society.
The role of government needs to change from that of provider
of goods and services to that of enabler, facilitator and regulator
of markets. The role of the government should be to ensure a more
equal playing field for the urban poor. This requires much more
precise targeting of subsidies through mechanisms that are in
harmony with the culture and economies of the poor, such as community-based
savings and credit groups.
Developing such innovative mechanisms requires research and experimentation.
Therefore, government institutions need to create an environment
that encourages officials to learn from the poor and experiment
with approaches and techniques of addressing specific issues.
Good examples of such innovative mechanisms are the Urban Community
Development Office of the Government of Thailand, popularly known
as the Urban Poor Bank, the Incremental Development Scheme of
the Hyderabad Development Authority of Pakistan and the Integrated
Action Planning approach of the Department of Housing and Urban
Development of Nepal.
Moreover, governmental institutions can only become “pro-poor”
if the poor are able to influence decision-making. Experience
from the region has shown that the poor are more able to influence
decision-making and enter into equitable partnerships more effectively
at the local rather than national level. Thus one of the key requisites
for sustained poverty alleviation is decentralization and devolution
of fiscal, regulatory and executive powers to the local level.
Human Resources Development in the Government or Public Sector
Poverty alleviation requires both attitudinal change and skills
development among government officials. Government officials need
to regard the poor as clients and partners, rather than the “governed”
and ignorant who need to be taken care of. They need to realize
that often the poor know how best to solve their own problems
and succeed if a supportive institutional environment exists.
The job of government officials is to facilitate the creation
of such supportive institutional environments.
Government officials also need to learn from the situation on
the ground rather than develop policies that are based on imported
models, theories and standards from developed countries. One of
the key lessons from successful poverty alleviation programmes
has been that the initiators of the programmes studied the existing
situation and identified ways and means of improving upon existing
market delivery mechanisms in partnership with the poor.
In addition to attitudinal change, government officials also
need assistance in developing their skills, not only to interact
with organizations of the poor but also to provide the technical
assistance required to address the problems faced by them and
to improve their working and living environments. In other words,
their skills to provide technical research and extension services
to the poor need to be developed and strengthened.
Most countries of the region have public service and local government
training and research institutions that are entrusted with developing
the human resources of governmental organizations. However, in
many cases these institutions are unable to build the needed capacities
because they themselves lack capacity. Capacities of these and
other technical institutions need to be enhanced to tackle the
demand for human resources development in the public sector.
Human Resources Development among the Poor and their Partners
Human resources development in the organizations of the poor
and among civil society organizations working with the poor is
also required. While in most countries of the region the poor
and their partners in civil society are better organized today
then they were a decade ago, they still need capacity-building
in strengthening and expanding collective mechanisms and improving
the articulation of their needs and demands.
Strengthening and Expanding Collective Mechanisms
To acquire power vis-à-vis other actors in the city, the poor
have to organize themselves into collective mechanisms such as
community- or trade-based organizations. Several organizations
have undertaken this task effectively. However, given the number
of the poor in the region, these efforts need to be increased
considerably. This would require concerted effort in training
new community organizers and further developing the skills of
existing community organizers.
Moreover, the poor and their partners also need assistance in
transparent management of community- and trade-based organizations
including such skills as financial and operations management,
working in group environments and consensus-building. They also
need skills such as negotiation, coalition-building and networking
to build partnerships with other actors in urban areas.
Improved Articulation of Needs and Demands
The poor and their partners need assistance in improving their
skills at advocacy and in accessing, analyzing and disseminating
information, including skills related to improved technologies
and markets. They also need assistance in social marketing techniques
to effect social and political change, including more effective
use of information technologies to link with international and
regional civil society movements and campaigns, and the local
and international media.
Actions at the Regional Level
Most efforts to alleviate poverty must be taken at the national,
sub-national and local levels. Regional efforts should concentrate
on supporting efforts at the country level. Moreover, these efforts
should concentrate on actions that either cannot be done at the
national level, such as exchange of experience and information,
or on actions that, because of economies of scale can be done
more effectively at the regional level, such as comparative research
or norm setting. Given these two criteria, these regional actions
- Further refining disaggregated indicators
on urban poverty that would enable policy-makers to measure
and understand both the extent and nature of urban poverty;
- Documenting and disseminating innovations,
networking and promoting exchange of experience and information
among governmental, non-governmental and community-based organizations
as well as research and training institutions on various aspects
of urban poverty, to encourage learning from each other;
- Undertaking comparative action research
on cutting-edge issues and alternative development approaches
such as integrating the economies of the poor into the formal
global economy, decentralized community-based waste management
systems, and community-based safety-nets, using information
technologies in capacity-building of local governments, among
- Promoting debate and discussion among
national and local policy-makers on cutting-edge issues, approaches,
policies and strategies to alleviate poverty; and
- Advocating such issues as decentralization
and devolution, partnerships among organizations of the poor
and other urban actors, security of tenure and good governance.