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31 December 2016 14:25

In Jaffna, Sri Lanka, sanitation workers employed by the state all belong to one caste: the Parayar. Here, Aftab Lall argues that the institutionalisation of Parayar workers as low-status government officials legitimates the discrimination they face, and ignores its origins. 

Aftab Lall, Research Assistant at the Centre for Poverty Analysis, Sri Lanka

06 June 2016 08:53

Women in one village in the Jaffna district of northern Sri Lanka have been rolling beedi with their bare hands for over fifty years in a gendered survival economy. This is no accident.

CEPA Junior Researcher Prashanthi Jayasekara

25 November 2015 16:19

In Ilam district, Eastern Nepal, researcher Georgina Sturge followed a team of a SLRC enumerators who were finding respondents for the second round of the SLRC panel survey. Earlier in the year they came close to not being able to reach the field in Nepal at all due to political protests. Now the challenge was to find the same respondent as in the first round in 2012. Was this crazily unrealistic given the significant constraints and issues we were like to face in fragile and conflict-affected states?

SLRC Research Officer Georgina Sturge

Written by Richard Mallett on 22 October 2015 22:56

Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. But what happens when he is unable to practice what he was taught? 

SLRC Researcher, Richard Mallett, and SLRC Sierra Leone research lead, Lisa Denney 

22 October 2015 15:49

Despite the MDG targets to achieve universal primary education and eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2015, according to Afghanistan’s most recent census only 23% of Afghan adolescent girls spend their teenage years in school, as compared to 42% of their male counterparts. Most rural families in particular still do not believe it is necessary for girls to get an education; these girls are to marry young. Thus, change must start from within.   

AREU Senior Research Assistant Shukria Azmadmanesh

Written by Richard Mallett on 24 July 2015 10:19

The limited operationalization of capacity support helps account for why the Ebola virus was so hard to control in Sierra Leone. 

SLRC Researcher, Richard Mallett 

Written by Lisa Denney on 15 April 2015 11:52

The international community has treated Ebola largely as a medical emergency, requiring a technical response. This is undoubtedly true in part, but it overlooks the political dimensions of the problem which will continue to resonate long after we have ‘gotten to zero’.

SLRC Sierra Leone research lead, Lisa Denney

09 April 2015 13:37

A 2012 report by UNHCR on the effects of IDPs on host families and host communities called for stronger commitment from the humanitarian community to assisting IDPs in hosting arrangements. But identifying who these people are in DRC is itself a practical challenge.

SLRC DRC PhD Researcher, Gloria Nguya

Written by Paul Harvey on 27 March 2015 12:40

The 2015 OECD report on States of Fragility proposes a new way of measuring and classifying fragility that is really exciting and ground-breaking, but it’s less exciting once it gets to the policy prescriptions. We seem to move from a bold new attempt to re-classify and re-think fragility to some pretty standard orthodoxies on what to do about it...

Paul Harvey, SLRC Director

06 March 2015 18:22

This Sunday will mark International Women’s Day across the world. Many will celebrate the progress that has been made towards eliminating gender inequality around the world. However, for women living in conflict there is still a long way to go.

Maryam Mohsin, SLRC Research Uptake Manager

04 March 2015 11:03

Last Wednesday, we were lucky enough to be invited along to the launch of the Institute of Development Studies’ Ebola: Lessons for Development papers. The event got us thinking about what the Ebola crisis tells us about our conventional ways of doing state-building and what it exposes as the limits of the existing orthodoxy...

SLRC Researcher, Richard Mallett and SLRC CEO, Paul Harvey

Written by Richard Mallett on 02 March 2015 16:29

The Ugandan government, buoyed by aid dollars and NGO activity, is trying to make the livelihoods of northern Ugandans better. Every year millions are poured into schemes like vocational training, microfinance and enterprise support with the intention of helping young people get into the labour market and make a decent living. But are their efforts falling short?

SLRC Researcher, Richard Mallett 

Written by Paul Harvey on 09 February 2015 11:41

Action on pay and working conditions in conflict-affected situations is needed, and this should be connected to the long history of working people fighting to combat exploitation through collective action.

Paul Harvey, SLRC Director

13 January 2015 16:02

Sometimes we forget that the state is not a thing, but a set of institutions made up of people. People can shape how the state functions and can trigger changes in the way it provides services and makes itself accountable to the population.

SLRC DRC PhD Student, Aembe Bwimana

14 December 2014 12:51

In the run up to International Migrants Day, SLRC has teamed up with Al Jazeera to bring together academics and journalists to tell a story about what migrants face when they embark on this risky journey.

Written by Richard Mallett on 12 November 2014 18:07

Most economic activity in developing countries is informal in nature. But the mistake people make is thinking that it is therefore untaxed and open to all (a kind of ultimate free market). This simply isn’t the case.

SLRC Researcher, Richard Mallett 

10 November 2014 17:02
Although the state has been primarily responsible for financing and administering social protection initiatives in Nepal over the last ten to 20 years, external aid agencies have been pivotal in shaping the social protection policy landscape, both through the promotion of particular programmes and the provision of knowledge and expertise.

Bishnu Upreti, SLRC Nepal  Research Programme Leader
Written by Richard Mallett on 06 October 2014 09:28

Making judgements about whether the continued use of traditional health providers in Sierra Leone is right or wrong misses the point. The fact is it happens. Dealing with long-term health problems first means understanding how local health systems actually work and why people continue to use the providers they do.

SLRC Researcher, Richard Mallett 

Written by Richard Mallett on 16 September 2014 12:08

We have known about the impacts of the seasons on health and agriculture for decades. It therefore seems remarkable that this fundamental issue still does not feature as a core pillar of health and nutrition programming.

SLRC Researcher, Richard Mallett 

28 August 2014 10:07

An increase in female-headed households is one of the most significant features of post-conflict realities in Asia and Africa. It is imperative that we foster a better understanding of the implications for post-war development and the experiences of women who are the economic and social bulwarks of such families.

Mira Philips, Centre for Poverty Analysis
12 August 2014 14:09

Post-war development initiatives need to combine bottom-up and community-led as well as state-led approaches. The former is central to empowerment, but so are robust institutional frameworks that can deliver effectively. However, an over-emphasis upon state-led approaches and institutions will fail in the absence of legitimacy or confidence by the people.

Mira Philips, Centre for Poverty Analysis

25 July 2014 10:26

Over the last four decades, attempts to reduce malnutrition in Sierra Leone have been met with mixed success. To tackle the country's high rate of malnutrition the Government has made a commitment to ensure that 60% of infants are exclusively breastfed by 2016. This infographic looks at the factors which need to be considered if Sierra Leone is to actually meet this objective. Based on our data from Kambia, there is still a way to go.
Written by Lisa Denney on 24 July 2014 13:02

If development practitioners aim to improve people’s lives – either by providing improved healthcare or ensuring access to justice – they need to engage with the multiple providers of these services that people actually use, rather than just one part of the system.

SLRC Sierra Leone research programme lead, Lisa Denney

02 July 2014 14:42

Understanding the role that women play in the local economy and the challenges they face in post war Sri Lanka, is very much linked to the role that women play in society – and the way in which their roles are perceived and valued.

SLRC Research Uptake Director, Priyanthi Fernando

The idea of ‘post-war’ immediately conjures up the situation in the North and the East where the overt fighting was most severe, and where the war devastated the infrastructure, displaced communities and destroyed a way of life and living. But at the same time, I don’t think we should be confining our label of ‘post-war’ to the north and east. It’s my contention that ALL of Sri Lanka is in a post-war situation; the war has affected all of us – in the north and in the south – Tamils and Sinhalese, and all of our institutions and our governance systems, and even our own individual ways of thinking and behaving. It has polarized communities..

Read the full blog: Women in the local economy in post war Sri Lanka

Written by Richard Mallett on 26 June 2014 14:14

What are we talking about when we talk about capacity? The answer should be straightforward, given that ideas of “capacity” and “capacity building” frame the way many of us think about – and do – development. But often the response is fuzzy and unclear...

SLRC/ODI Researcher, Richard Mallett

When most people talk about capacity, they actually mean either “stuff” – resources and equipment – or hard skills in some technical discipline. This is the obvious starting point: without proper medical facilities or trained staff, how can a local health clinic do its job? Which is probably why so many capacity building programs try to fill deficits by giving stuff and providing technical training. But often the real problems confronting service providers have nothing to do with what's available in a tangible or technical sense – this might be a symptom, but it's not the root of the problem. So what do we then do in terms of thinking about capacity?

Read the full blog : Beyond Stuff: Capacity as a Relational Concept

25 June 2014 15:49

The Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium has started to publish baseline survey reports for Uganda, Nepal and Pakistan, with more in the pipeline. These are attempts to catalogue people's attitudes and perceptions of livelihoods support, access to basic services and economic opportunities, and governance.                        

Alyoscia D'Onofrio, IRC's Senior Director for Governance & Rights programming

Maybe it’s the multi-disciplinary, multi-agency, multi-country, multi-method, multi-year research programme focused on how people survive and recover from conflict that I find so compelling and full of potential.

Or maybe I’m just attracted to yellow and black logos.

Either way, the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium has started to publish baseline survey reports for Uganda, Nepal and Pakistan, with more in the pipeline. These are attempts to catalogue people’s attitudes and perceptions around three basic but incredibly important themes.

  1. Their livelihoods (how they make ends meet, how they compromise when they can’t)
  2. Their access to economic opportunities and essential services (health, education, water, social safety nets);
  3. Their views of government (national and local).

These are a baseline because the researchers will be going back to track changes two to three years later. This makes for an even more valuable resource as we’ll go from having a snapshot of people’s opinions to being able to view trends over time...

Read the full blog: What’s yellow, black and tantalising?

25 June 2014 15:08

What we are doing to convince people of the importance of gender in development isn't working. We need to go beyond ‘target women’ approaches and bring back a focus on empowerment - and we really shouldn't be afraid to be political.                 

Rebecca Holmes, ODI researcher, and Rachel Slater, SLRC Research Director

When progress is slow and difficult, we often talk about how we are able to move two steps forward but then tend to slide one step back. When we were invited to write this opinion piece, we started to wonder whether, if we are really going to get gender taken seriously in fragile and conflict-affected situations, we might need to go back a bit in order to make progress – back to the concepts of the early ‘women in development’ approaches which were radical, politicised, heavily activist and feminist in nature...

Read the full blog: One step backwards two steps forward? Unlocking gender equality in fragile and conflict-affected situations

Read the working paper: Gender-responsive budgeting in fragile and conflict-affected states - a review

Written by Paul Harvey on 25 April 2014 14:26

How resilient will the New Deal prove to be in the face of renewed conflict in South Sudan?      

Paul Harvey, SLRC Director

The tragic resumption of conflict in South Sudan has highlighted a concern with the current state-building focus of so much international engagement in fragile and conflict-affected places. As embodied by the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, the current emphasis of international support is very much on country ownership with ‘state-building as the central objective’. There is much to commend this process, rooted as it is in fragile states starting to assert their sovereignty and ownership of their own development through the G7+ forum. It’s also an understandable reaction to international engagement that in fragile states has too long ignored national systems and capacities and too quickly substituted for the state.

But there’s a danger that the pendulum has swung too far back the other way. The New Deal works well in contexts where the fragile state and its donors have good relationships and when things are going well. What’s less clear is how resilient it is in the face of renewed conflict, as we are currently seeing in South Sudan. If the New Deal approach, and the shift in international modes of engagement that lies behind it, isn’t well adapted to cope with places where conflict resumes or never really stops, then this presents a major problem because fragile states are, well, fragile and so prone to relapse into conflict and violence. There’s a risk that the emphasis on working through national systems implies an ‘all your eggs in one basket’ approach to supporting post-conflict recovery. International actors may need to think more about how to maintain a critical distance from particular regimes, how to maintain the capacity for independent humanitarian action when needed and how to engage the state and non-state actors at multiple and particularly local levels – not just the national level. As Pantuliano argues, international engagement has, ‘too often followed textbook prescriptions and overlooked the political and social realities of the country, treating it instead as a technical exercise in state building.’

There is potential to look at events in South Sudan and ask whether the aid transition after Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) got the balance and timing right in moving away from international actors financed through humanitarian windows to new funding streams and different actors. As Wendy Fenton argued back in 2008, there was a need for a better mix of aid instruments, accessible to NGOs and focused on immediate service delivery and longer-term state building.

When the immediate humanitarian situation (hopefully) starts to improve it will be important to ask whether the post-CPA investments in state building have proved at all resilient in the face of the current conflict, how local-level governance institutions have responded to conflict and what has happened to peoples’ views about the legitimacy and role of the state. These are questions which we’ll be looking to explore in the SLRC South Sudan research programme.

Written by Richard Mallett on 10 April 2014 11:02

Many Nepalese believe that electricity blackouts are akin to a tax on their livelihoods. So how should the state respond?

SLRC/ODI Researcher, Richard Mallett

I've been in Nepal since January helping out with the implementation of a household survey. Throughout February and March, we asked people in two districts - Jhapa, in the south-east of the country on the Indian border, and Tibetan-bordering Sindhupalchok to the north - about their livelihoods, the various taxes they pay, and their relationships with state governance. As part of this research, we've also been carrying out a number of more in-depth qualitative interviews.

When asked about the kinds of taxes that most affect their livelihoods on a day-to-day basis, one of the things that struck me about people's responses was the frequency with which electricity bills were mentioned. At first, I couldn't quite understand why this was coming up so much: that's not a tax, I thought, it's simply a payment made in exchange for a service. In my mind, I began to discount these responses, passing them off as information that missed the points we were trying to get at.

My assumptions were misplaced.

Click here to keep reading and share your views.

19 March 2014 20:43

The invisibility of women's fishing related activities at the household, community and decision making levels leads to their exclusion from the institutional and technical support in a post-war context. 

SLRC/CEPA Researcher, Gayathri Lokuge
Written by Rachel Slater on 18 March 2014 15:08

Is it possible to deliver basic services effectively and efficiently, and at the same time enhance state legitimacy in fragile states?

SLRC Research Director, Rachel Slater

I should admit to being highly sceptical of ‘win-win’ situations. I’m reminded of the agricultural economist, Michael Lipton, telling me very early in my career: ‘Rachel, I have never in my entire career seen a single case of two birds being killed with one stone.’ And I work predominantly in the social protection sector where, albeit slowly, we are learning that if you heap too many objectives on to a simple instrument like cash transfers or school feeding, you risk not achieving any of them satisfactorily.

I have similar concerns about the common mantra that we hear in development agencies about fragile states: deliver basic services, especially health, education, water and sanitation, and (hey presto!) enhance the relationship between citizens and the state. Is it possible to deliver basic services effectively and efficiently, and at the same time enhance state legitimacy? I’m not sure. We know that some programme design and implementation choices that focus on, for example, building state legitimacy, lead to sub-optimal outcomes for the development of human capital and, therefore, for the reduction of poverty . Put more simply, trade-offs are everywhere. So what more did I learn about this at the WDR 2004 10th Anniversary Conference in Washington D.C. last week? And what continues to niggle and remains unresolved?

One lesson was some food for thought about the role of the private sector in delivering services in fragile and conflict-affected countries. Richard Batley stressed the need to recognise that the private sector is often the main service provider in many fragile countries and, rather than replacing a government-provided service that has collapsed during conflict, the private sector has always been the main provider in some places – the Kivus in eastern DRC are a good

example. Paul Collier suggested that governments should take overall responsibility for the delivery of services but not the function itself. Derek Brinkerhoff, Egbert Sondorp and Jacob Shapiro focused more on how to manage resources and funds to deliver services and provided some important insights about the kinds of changes needed in the roles and approaches of development agencies and governments, especially around resourcing, leadership and


My second lesson was that we must not be too simplistic in the way we portray thinking by donor agencies about the service delivery – such as my own caricatured description of the common mantra of development agencies on services and state-building above! We too often set up a straw man to knock it down (we oversimplify donors’ positions and then we prove the actual situation is more complex). For example, Alan Whaites stressed that the OECD’s message about service delivery and statebuilding has somehow been distilled to focus on the actual delivery bit, when, in actual fact, the OECD posited that meeting people’s expectations in relation to service delivery (not just delivering services) was a mechanism that might increase state legitimacy. And we need to heed Jacob Shapiro’s experience in Pakistan where he found that, while the delivery of services following floods in 2010 didn’t lead directly to increased state legitimacy, it did increase participation in elections in targeted areas.

And the unresolved issues? Well, I’m left with a concern that the current approach to building (state) institutions and delivering services in post-conflict situations pushes for a transition from humanitarian assistance to building state capacity far too quickly. This is problematic because of the lack of absorptive capacity and access to remote areas –Egbert Sondorp described how large health infrastructure projects in South Sudan were only able to build hospitals just outside Juba and failed to expand health infrastructure much further than that.

But I have a deeper concern – one that emerges from the last week’s discussions about the roles of state and non-state providers, the extent to which there are trade-offs between enhancing state legitimacy and delivering services, and what sorts of transitions are required post-conflict. My concern is whether, in the current push to move rapidly to state delivery of services following a conflict, and to build the capacity of state at speed (rather than have non-state provision) we are investing in services in conflict-affected situations that are not even vaguely conflict-proof.

Conflict and violence rarely come to a full stop right after a peace agreement, and many countries slide back into conflict or remain fragile, but how far does our programming insure against that? Rebecca Winthrop pointed out that in the education sector, too much attention is paid to who is delivering services, and far too little to whether children’s education is able to continue, uninterrupted and without disruption, during conflicts.

Ultimately, I came away from the WDR 2004 anniversary meeting wondering about South Sudan, and how much of the millions of dollars of investment in building services there has survived the violence of December 2013 and remains intact? Rather than prioritising state-building objectives in relation to services, should we not focus more on ensuring that our programming is conflict sensitive and will be sustained even in the face of further violence?

This piece was originally published in "Public services at the crossroads: Ten years after the World Development Report 2004: reflections on the past decade and implications for the future".

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14 March 2014 12:08

Persistent constraints in resources, skills and knowledge, and lack of political engagement are undermining Sierra Leone's capability to prevent malnutrition. The images published by New Internationalist capture the story.

By Richard Mallett and Lisa Denney

Over a decade since the civil war officially ended in Sierra Leone,  malnutrition still remains a serious problem in Sierra Leone, with the country ranked among the five states with the highest global hunger index score in 2009. As Sierra Leone has moved away from the post-conflict moment and becomes less fragile, nutrition policy has also shifted from a focus on treatment to prevention.

We have just published a report which suggests that persistent constraints in resources, skills and knowledge, and lack of political engagement are undermining the state’s capability to prevent malnutrition.

The main recommendations are to:

  • Build more varied capacity development activities that engage systems as well as individual and organisational levels of capacity
  • Target political, incentive and organisational/management constraints, as much as knowledge and resource constraints.
  • Move away from training and provision of resources, towards more flexible engagements that aim to facilitate a political process.
  • Develop approaches that centre on facilitation, brokering and iterative problem-solving.

A photo story by SLRC about malnutrition in Sierra Leone was recently profiled in the New Internationalist

Images courtesy of Richard Mallett.

View the images here: http://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2014/03/13/photo-malnutrition-sierra-leone/

Written by Paul Harvey on 13 March 2014 14:51

Capacity building is stuck in a rut and tackling malnutrition in Sierra Leone requires different approaches

Paul Harvey, SLRC Director

The other day I was presenting to IrishAid a recent SLRC report on how international aid attempts to build the capacity of the government of Sierra Leone to tackle malnutrition. It’s a great report and I’d urge people to read it. Our researchers spent some time out in Kambia looking at how the programmes attempting to build nutrition capacity actually worked at the local level. It’s the first stage of a research programme with a survey of access and coverage in the district just being completed and further qualitative work to come this year.

It finds that attempts to build capacity are still very much stuck in a short-term training mode. As one interviewee lamented, ‘Training, training, training, training, training – how much training does one person need?!’ The big hope for an approach to tackle the causes of malnutrition (not just treatment) are investments in mother-to-mother support groups and farmer field schools. These are supported through cascade training (training one group of people who then train others) and some provision of resources. These aren’t working very well at the local level with a big problem of Chinese whispers – once the training has percolated down to the local level very little of the content remains. Capacity support focuses on resources and skills and knowledge at the individual and organisation levels. Other forms of support that target different kinds of capacity and focus on the system and political processes are frequently overlooked.

The recommendations are to:

  • Build more varied capacity development activities that engage systems as well as individual and organisational levels of capacity
  • Target political, incentive and organisational/management constraints, as much as knowledge and resource constraints.
  • Move away from training and provision of resources, towards more flexible engagements that aim to facilitate a political process.
  • Develop approaches that centre on facilitation, brokering and iterative problem-solving.

So we’re firmly in the territory of much recent governance research arguing for more of a focus on brokering and facilitating change. The problem, if we’re to have any chance of getting donors to act on these recommendations, is twofold. Firstly, the findings on the failings of existing approaches are pretty well known – we’re in ‘no shit Sherlock’ territory here. The repetition continues, though, because development agencies are yet to really take this on board. But secondly, there are lots of reasons why donors find it really hard to switch to the more flexible, politically and context savvy local level engagements that keep being recommended to them. There’s a tension between PDIA (Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation) type approaches and the increased emphasis on local ownership and ensuring governments are in the driving seat in aid effectiveness debates. On the one hand, donors are being told to be ‘more political’ but on the other, they’re being told to butt out of politics. So we’re recommending things that are obvious but difficult.

My presentation ended with JUST TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT in big friendly capitals and an adaptation of a questionable Einstein quote – ‘Development is (sometimes) doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’. But to be really helpful to donors we probably need to start saying more about what the ‘something different’ looks like. I certainly don’t have the magic bullet for how to nail the ‘so what?’ of recent governance research, and our Sierra Leone research programme is at an early stage – we hope to engage with some of the ‘so what?’ questions more thoroughly in our ongoing research this year.

I did have one possibly helpful thought in relation to nutrition, which was that nutrition could learn from the Community-Led Total Sanitation movement (CLTS). We are, after all, talking about not dissimilar problems – how to facilitate and encourage behavioural change at the community level to tackle a public health problem. And it’s a problem where there are huge and under-explored links between poor sanitation and nutrition. So maybe there’s scope for nutrition to adopt CLTS type approaches and for supporting more joined up action to tackle sanitation and nutrition challenges within communities (and probably much already going on in this area – we’re conscious of being new to the sector and risking teaching grandmothers to suck eggs).

12 February 2014 11:33

A visit to a village in the North three years after the fighting ended provides insights on the challenges of resettling the war displaced.

Aftab Lall - SLRC Sri Lanka Researcher

It's been five years since the Sri Lankan military declared victory over the LTTE. Many people displaced by the war have been able to return home, access basic services and restart their lives and livelihoods. However, many remain displaced and are in urgent need of personal security, safe housing, and access to basic services.

We have just published a paper looking at how the politics of the Sri Lankan state underpins the resettlement of people displaced during the last stages of the war, particularly focusing on the state’s approach to post-war development, security, and international relations.

The paper started to take shape after we visited the North in the warm month of July 2012 and met with those who had been displaced and resettled, as well as officials from the government administration, representatives of (I)NGOs and religious organisations. We wanted to find out about the government’s post-war resettlement process, which had been underway since the end of the war in 2009. Three years later, there were a significant number of people who continued to live in displacement - such was the situation for the people of Mullikulam in North West Sri Lanka. When we spoke to them they told us that the greatest threat to their lives at present were the elephants that roamed about in close proximity to their camp. They would light small fires at night to keep them at bay. Exposure to the unrelenting sun; heavy rain; swarms of flies; and of course the elephants - were just some of the conditions the people of Mullikulam were willing to put up with until they can return to their homeland, which had been appropriated by the Sri Lankan Navy.

The people of Mullikulam were living in extremely poor conditions. Living spaces were demarcated by tiny stretches of earth that had been cleared of undergrowth. Some had loosely strung tarpaulin sheet roofs, while others trusted the dense foliage for shelter. Their belongings (a few suitcases and bags) doubled up as furniture. Yet their destitute living conditions stood in stark contrast to their energy, assertiveness and the optimism with which they shared their story with us, as well as their hopes of going back home.

In 2007, with the fighting taking place exclusively in the North, the people of Mullikulam were evicted from their homes by the Sri Lankan armed forces for security reasons and they were told they would be allowed to return in a few days’ time. Having no other option, they left with a few belongings expecting to return in a few days and carry on with livelihoods activities, mainly farming and fishing. After five years of continual displacement, many decided to try and move back, but were prevented from doing so by the Navy. There have been a number of allegations suggesting that Navy personnel have in fact moved into people’s homes. The decision by the Mullikulam people to live in the jungle on the outskirts of the Naval base was in protest to a perceived injustice. They also hoped the protest would grab the attention of anybody willing to listen and help them get their land and livelihoods back. Our conversation was cut short by a visit from the Bishop of Mannar, accompanied by two politicians - one from the government and another from the opposition, and a man with a large video camera. An entourage of government security personnel and members from the Red Cross tailed them. We were told that the Bishop was in dialogue with local political and military actors attempting to broker a deal for the people of Mullikulam.

I remember getting increasingly anxious. We knew of the sensitivities around issues of displacement and the evictions that have taken place due to the establishment of high security zones (HSZs) all over the North of Sri Lanka, both during and after the war. We were also well aware of the omnipresence of the military, often in plain clothing- keeping a close eye on visitors. My colleague, familiar with government actors, managed to extract us from further interrogation (what are you doing here? how did you hear about these people? etc.). Our interviews and conversations with civil servants in the northern administration revealed a strong control over information around the resettlement process. We were told that information on the resettlement process could only be shared after getting approval from the Presidential Task Force (PTF). 

What is the PTF? When was it set up? Why was it set up? What role do such government organisations play in the resettlement process? How do these organisations and actors facilitate and mediate issues of displacement and resettlement? Looking into these questions can provide us with some insight into how things have been functioning on the ground since the end of the war, and what more needs to be done to ensure people can return home.

We also wanted to know how broader political, economic and social trends in Sri Lanka influence the destiny of people in similar circumstances: why they remain displaced from their land; why high security zones continue to function after the withdrawal of the emergency and how local, national and international actors shape the post-war landscape and the lives and livelihoods of people affected by violent conflict. Since the time of research and writing the paper, the context in the North has changed in some aspects, yet remains the same in others. We met the people of Mullikulam a month into them living in the forest on the outskirts of the navy base. Since then, some have been resettled in another settlement, and have been given access to some of their land to practice their traditional livelihoods, however, many continue to voice their wish to return to their original lands.

Over the coming months the SLRC team in Sri Lanka will be looking into how those who have been resettled, as well as those who continue to be displaced, access basic services and social protection, and re-build their livelihoods.

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22 December 2013 17:19

Political loyalties in South Sudan are never set in stone, nor are they simply “tribal”. Allegiances may be complex, conflicting, and ultimately dependent on whatever seems to offer the best chance for survival at any given moment.

Rachel Gordon - SLRC South Sudan Researcher

The descent of South Sudan from relative stability to virtual chaos has happened with breathtaking speed over the past week. While tensions within the ruling political party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), had certainly been brewing for months, it remains remarkably unclear exactly what happened on December 15 to set this crisis in motion.

Did SPLM Deputy Chairman and former Vice President Riek Machar try to stage a coup? Did Machar conspire with former first lady Rebecca Garang and a group of resentful former cabinet ministers and governors to unleash rebellion within the SPLA (the national army) and overthrow President Salva Kiir? Did an escalated dispute involving presidential guards present Kiir with an opportunity to lay mutiny charges at the feet of his opponents, thereby taking down his opposition and avenging recent challenges to his leadership? Are these political leaders literally and figuratively rallying their “tribal” troops and inciting violence along ethnic lines in service of their own designs on power?

Those questions and more have been extensively debated elsewhere, but the answers remain murky. Less clear still is how this will all play out, and whether the situation will get worse before it gets better. Despite the return of an uneasy calm to Juba, and government declarations of normalcy and control, the situation has already "mutated into something that threatens the whole country". Violence has spread to multiple states, including the oil-rich northern states such as Unity, and ever-restive Jonglei in the east.

As we write in a forthcoming—and suddenly even more timely—conflict analysis of ongoing tensions in Jonglei for the SLRC South Sudan project, “[n]ational political dynamics have also shaped conflict at the local level. The struggle between Dinka and Nuer elite for political and economic dominance is regularly highlighted as a major potential flashpoint of larger national conflict, and Jonglei is widely expected to be a major source of violence if such a conflict were to erupt.”

That conflict has now certainly erupted, and Jonglei is indeed a battleground. General Peter Gadet, a rebel leader turned (and un-turned, and re-turned…) SPLA commander, has reportedly defected again with a contingent of SPLA soldiers, and has taken Bor town, the capital of Jonglei. Approximately 14,000 civilians have sought shelter at the UNMISS base in Bor, and tens of thousands more have been displaced from the town. An attack yesterday (December 19) on the UNMISS base in Akobo county, which neighbors SLRC study sites in northern Jonglei, resulted in the deaths of two Indian UN peacekeepers and at least 11 civilians. Sporadic fighting has been reported all over the state, including Akobo, Gumuruk, Likuangole, Pibor town, Pochalla and Waat.

Perhaps the most unsettling question of all is not where the crisis came from, but whether anyone is actually in charge. The government and media continue to attribute skirmishes across the country to “rebels” and “forces loyal to Machar,” but there is little evidence that it is an organized or cohesive movement. It is unclear whether Gadet and Machar have even spoken to one another, much less that they have put aside their historical animosities and gone into cahoots. Most of the fighting appears to be between factions of SPLA troops—though the attack on UNMISS in Akobo has been blamed on “Nuer youths” (approx. 2,000 of them)—and all of it is currently taking place in remote reaches of the country where communication can only occur by satellite phone (and the remarkably efficient rumor mill).

The arm of the state in South Sudan has never been long, and its authority over even nominally loyal troops in the field is now uncertain. Under such circumstances, the “rebel movement” framing is even more questionable. Unity and coordination among disparate groups under leaders with a variety of grudges against the government and one another is possible, but seems improbable. A simpler and more plausible explanation is that the fighting factions on the ground are answering to a variety of national or local actors, or no one at all.

In the meantime, framing these developments as an organized rebellion with Machar at its head, with an arrest warrant out for him and 13 other leaders of the SPLM opposition in prison already, may actually be pushing the former VP to fulfill the role of rebel leader in order to shore up his negotiating position. The international community is pinning its hopes on dialogue, with a delegation of ministers from Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda now in Juba, but it is unclear that even sincere negotiations between Kiir and Machar—not yet a given, by any means—could actually result in a cessation of hostilities between actors on the ground.

Further worrying is the relative silence thus far from other groups not known for staying out of the fray. That includes Murle rebel leader David Yau Yau, who is allegedly responsible for numerous attacks and hundreds of deaths in Jonglei over the past several years. As Luka Biong Deng, a prominent South Sudanese academic and an SLRC advisor, pointed out, it also includes the Sudanese government in Khartoum, whose own economy and stability are dependent upon the continuing flow of oil from the fields in Unity and elsewhere in South Sudan, and who may therefore be unlikely to sit idle while violent developments in those areas threaten such a vital source of income for both countries.

As the forthcoming SLRC conflict analysis highlights, political loyalties in South Sudan are never set in stone, nor are they simply “tribal,” despite the ease with which that explanation fits into popular narratives about conflict in Africa. Allegiances may be complex, conflicting, and ultimately dependent on whatever seems to offer the best chance for survival at any given moment. The survival of individuals and families has never been assured in areas like Jonglei, where the lack of security, services, and infrastructure created a situation of immense vulnerability long before the current crisis. But it has perhaps never been as precarious as it is today.

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04 December 2013 13:27
The World Bank recently published the findings of its impact evaluation of Afghanistan’s largest development programme, the National Solidarity Programme. The findings are not hugely positive, so is it time to give up on Community Driven Development? 

Ivan Parks - Director of the Somalia Stability Fund
The National Solidarity Programme (NSP) is a flagship programme – both for development and conflict-reduction work – since it is localised, and makes great efforts to work through small local councils for every project it funds. It is often recognised as one of the better development initiatives in the country.  However, the findings of this rigorous analysis are not hugely positive in terms of impact on the communities in which the NSP operates:

  • NSP has no impact on whether villagers believe that the government should exercise jurisdiction over local crimes, set the school curriculum, issue ID cards, or collect income tax.  Similarly, the NSP has no impact on whether villagers prefer a centralized state or a weak federation, or identify primarily as Afghan or as a member of a specific ethnic group…
  • There is strong evidence that NSP improves perceptions of government, but the effects dissipate after project completion.  Similarly, during project implementation, NSP induces a strongly significant increase in the reported benevolence of a wide-range of government entities, but the impact mostly fades following project completion, with only weak positive impacts persisting for the President and central government officials...
  • NSP does not appear to affect the likelihood of villages suffering violent attacks, at least as reported by the villagers themselves, both during and after project implementation. There is also no evidence that NSP affects the ability of insurgent groups to expropriate harvests…

The NSP study is one of several similar pieces of high-quality research into similar Community Driven Development/Recovery (CDD/R) programmes in conflict-affected places over the last few years.  It is not an outlier – the others tell a similar, underwhelming story.  A report by Dr Elisabeth King published earlier this year looking at all CDD impact evaluations in conflict-affected contexts found the following:

  • According to rigorous impact evaluations from programmes in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Aceh (Indonesia), Liberia and Sierra Leone, and interviews with practitioners, policymakers and academics, the record of CDD in conflict-affected contexts is mixed and, overall, disappointing in terms of reaching the ambitious goals set out.
  • As currently designed, implemented, and evaluated, CDD is better at generating the more tangible economic outcomes than it is at generating social changes related to governance and social cohesion, although even the economic effects are found in just a few studies. Moreover, CDD programming is better at producing outcomes directly associated with the project rather than broader changes in routine life.
  • CDD has been plagued by a panacea-type approach to goals and a generalised theory of change that is, as interviewees characterised it, “lofty”, “unrealistic”, “inherently flawed” and even “ridiculous”.

This doesn’t mean CDD goes in the bin, but it also doesn’t mean we should plough on with the same model regardless. One option is to adapt the programme (the NSP paper gives ideas on adaptations) and test those adaptations to try and find a model that does deliver some of the impact claimed for CDD. Another option is to lower our expectations for what the CDD approach can deliver – if we build a paper aeroplane, we should not be disappointed that it doesn’t fly us to the moon. Instead we should judge it on whether it can get to the other side of the room. For CDD this might mean re-focusing it as a mechanism for delivering stuff – clinic buildings, school buildings etc. – rather than as a mechanism for bringing about societal and governmental change.  We could then test if against other ways of delivering stuff – through the government or NGOs for example.

But to focus on CDD’s failings here, is to miss the point. The knowledge we now have is great news for CDD and for the communities that will benefit from it in the future. If those working on CDD can learn from the research and improve their programmes then it’s entirely possible that future impact evaluations of CDD will have much more positive findings.

In conflict-affected locations around the world (including Somalia where I work) donors are spending huge sums of money on local-level interventions that are intended to increase social capital, improve community cohesion, peacefully resolve disputes, reduce armed violence, strengthen local governance and so on. These are invariably complex, subtle problems that are not easily solved with the blunt instrument of cash. And there is very little high quality evidence for much of it.  CDD has blazed a trail here – it has shown that it is possible to be rigorous about evaluating impact of some of the most difficult programmes in some of the most challenging places. It is now up to those funding and implementing other programmes with related goals to subject themselves to the same rigour and scrutiny as that from which CDD is benefiting.

This is a guest post by Ivan Parks. Ivan is Director of the Somalia Stability Fund – a local governance and peacebuilding programme in Somalia.  For more info:   

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18 November 2013 06:06

"Nepal's elections need to be conducted in a free and fair environment, and parties should shift their focus towards the task at hand (finalising a new constitution). Only then can the future of Nepal be built on a foundation of stability."

Bishnu Upreti, SLRC Nepal Programme Leader

After nearly a decade, Nepal is approaching its 2nd national election of the Constituent Assembly (CA). These elections will see 601 national representatives elected to the CA. Though there is still no official process in place for finalising the new constitution, the population of Nepal, as well as the observing international community, have high hopes that the newly elected representatives will press forwards with finalising the long awaited new constitution. The new constitution holds the opportunity to address important demands by various regional and ethnic groups including a republican state, federalism, and most importantly, inclusion. 

Why has the new constitution still not been formalised? The first Constituent Assembly in April 2008 national election failed to produce the new constitution and the country fell into a protracted and bloody armed crisis. Though an Interim Constitution was drafted and accompanied by promises of implementing the provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA), the CA elected members failed to formalise and implement the new constitution due to differing personal and political agendas, particularly those of the United Communist Party of Nepal (UCPNM), Nepali Congress Party, Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) and regional parties from Terai-Madesh. The main sticking points of the interim constitution were with regards to inherent and divisive contradictory demands, including whether Nepal should have one province in Terai-Madesh or more, whether multiple ethnic identities should be formally recognised or whether there should be a single ethnic identity, and finally whether Nepal should have a presidential or West ministerial governing system. 5 years later, nothing has changed and Nepal is now facing the second CA election.

Though the government and political parties have publicly pledged to conduct the CA election on 19 November fairly, we can see mounting tensions between the United Communist Party of Nepal (UCPN-M) and its radical faction, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M). To put it bluntly, the CPN-M resents the UCPN-M for abandoning their wartime agenda due to public pressure and failing to implement the CPA provisions. The CPN-M has since been obstructing the election, forming and leading a 33-party alliance aimed to create fear and confusion amongst candidates and the electorate. Added to this is the fact that armed groups further south in Terai have regrouped, accompanying their own political demands with violence, which has resulted in one election candidate being shot dead. The line between politics and crime is no clearer now than it was 5 years ago. 

In response to the threat of disruption and escalating violence, the government have mobilised an unprecedented two thirds of the army to the most “sensitive districts”, aka places where the CPN-M and armed groups are highly active, such as Rolpa, Bardiya and Ilam, where we have been conducting our survey, and Terai. Though many argue this may actually be adding fuel to the warring faction’s fire. One thing is for sure; fear and tension is mounting and is likely to worsen as polling day approaches and violent confrontations between parties intensify. 

Though the election is gathering momentum and the Election Commission (EC) has been working hard to register voters, the political parties have made wild (8 to 10 percent economic growth – India and China would be envious) and unclear promises (housing for 500,000 homeless people) which lack any detail about implementation, and most worryingly, details about how the New Constitution will be finalised and implemented are completely absent. Many parties are yet to even finalise their candidate nomination list. This disorganisation is underlined by the fact that the EC has stated that a total of 332 candidates on the PR candidate list have been asked to clarify their candidacy, age and which political party they are aligned to.

Stuck in the middle of this chaotic and complex picture are of course the Nepali people, who on the one hand are fully aware of the importance of voting to ensure representatives are elected to write the constitution, but on the other hand, face voting under the threat of violence from the radical CPN-M alliance and armed groups.     

If the CA elections are conducted in a free and fair environment, and parties shift their focus towards the task at hand (finalising a new constitution), the future of Nepal could potentially be built on a foundation of stability, and we may finally see economic prosperity in Nepal. However, ensuring the security of voters, candidates, ballots and those involved in conducting the election, is already proving to be a challenge. In this context, it is important for all stakeholders involved to ensure the elections are owned by people, and are free and fair.

13 August 2013 17:55

The view that informal economies are detrimental must be reassessed in the face of examples which show the importance of such jobs in economically-challenged conflict affected situations.

Ruth Canagarajah, Researcher at US-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission.

When we think of conflict and its impact on employment and livelihoods, we tend to talk about the inevitable loss of job security and employment opportunities. Conflict impairs the functions and legitimacy of state institutions and creates an environment where transparency and accountability are non-existent. On the one hand, this climate creates a permissive setting for shadowy, unregulated activities, which can be exploited and manipulated, both by perpetrators of civil unrest, as well as victims. On the other hand, this climate is being utilised in less insidious ways; one of which is the increase in informal employment opportunities, allowing people to better secure their livelihoods in conflict affected situations.

When the state can’t ensure access to basic livelihoods and provisions, the informal sector will often step in and harness local resources, skills, and networks. Yet there is limited analysis on how informal employment works in conflict-affected countries, and especially in areas affected by militarization, movement restrictions, and displacement.

It would be too simplistic to think of informal and formal economic activities as unambiguous given the complex, mixed-mode labor arrangements between both sectors. So what does the informal sector actually look like? It is usually characterized by individual or household enterprises that are unregistered entities, thereby avoiding regulation and license requirements. The general belief is that these types of unregulated, untaxed jobs are a widespread phenomenon in countries affected by conflict, and the bigger the informal sector, the more it signals underlying problems of governance and security. This sector acts as a “coping economy”, i.e. an economy in which people diversify their livelihood strategies in order to survive, and it typically offers irregular income and doesn't provide the legal benefits or the labor rights protection you would normally find in the formal employment sector. In a context where private sector investment is seen as a risky business, and can actually agitate conflict, informal employment can work as a positive means for providing job opportunities. Due to the general lack of regulation and low growth in formal enterprises, unofficial job creation initiatives flourish and tend to utilize social networks and the communities’ financial capital.

When a business closes down due to inadequate resources and destroyed infrastructure, laid-off workers may feel it’s too risky to jump straight back into formal employment. In this situation, home-based work and self-employment offer more autonomy and less vulnerability. In conflict situations, “informality” becomes an adaptive or coping strategy to secure livelihoods and survive. If we take Sri Lanka as an example, the official end of the 25 year civil war in 2009 saw the informal sector boom. The closing of the A9 road meant that the north of Sri Lanka was virtually inaccessible, which forced businesses in areas once considered to be economic hubs to relocate. Faced with an economic embargo for nearly three decades, northern Sri Lankans resorted to finding informal jobs as both coping and adaptive strategies. Renuka, now a 30-year old self-employed shop owner and house cleaner, once worked for a prawn manufacturing company. In  2000, her father, the family’s main breadwinner, suffered from severe injuries caused by shelling during the conflict and passed away. Soon after, Renuka  lost her job in the prawn company. Whilst searching for work she made use of her religious community ties to advertise her availability for housework, which she has continued to do for the last 13 years, whilst running a small shop attached to her house. Renuka is now hoping to increase her self-employment activities.

As we can see, some people who have lost their jobs in the formal sector have adopted informal employment as a permanent means for survival, whereas others are utilizing it as a temporary coping mechanism. The same can be seen in the fishing sector in the north of Sri Lanka. Years of conflict, displacement and isolation from markets, along with the seasonality of fishing, forced many families to seek out informal employment opportunities and they have continued this coping strategy post conflict.  Amongst vulnerable fish workers, there is evidence of a small trend to supplement fishing activities with masonry, construction work, paddy farming, and by setting up small shops when times are exceptionally tough. Since conflict affects the long-term strategies of big businesses and investment, the post-war period continues to see a reliance on informal employment.

A question that has yet to be addressed is: should there be incentives to pull a country out of its conflict economy and set up a more formal economic order to promote growth? Or is the informal sector a boon that post-conflict job creation plans can utilise? On the one hand, the informal sector can depress GDP growth, because it decreases tax revenues and public spending. The jobs in themselves are also known to offer less in terms of social security and are largely ignored by government agencies. On the other hand, the sector’s impact on livelihoods could be significant during the early phases of transition in conflict-affected situations. It may even make the post-conflict economy more stable and efficient than one that’s solely dependent on the formal sector.

This “coping economy” in conflict situations demonstrates a pragmatic judgement made by people who, in the face of little alternatives, rely on themselves and their social networks to find a means of securing their livelihoods, as opposed to putting themselves at the mercy of often malfunctioning formal and state-run employment schemes. The view that these “shadow economies” are detrimental must be reassessed in light of examples that show the necessity for such jobs in economically-challenged conflict affected situations, not only for the survival  of a household but also to support the transition towards community stability.

*This blog is the first of two installments; the first, above, provides a theoretical and broad look at informal employment in war environments; the second will analyze how specific sectors, such as fishing and agriculture play a role in the trend.

This is a guest post by Ruth Canagarajah, a Fulbright fellow in northern Sri Lanka who is researching the intersection of natural resources, livelihoods, and post-war challenges.

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Written by Paul Harvey on 27 June 2013 15:13

Informal taxation plays an important role in people's everyday struggle to secure their livelihoods. We need to look at what people have to pay to get by if we really want to open up opportunities to create resilient livelihoods in conflict affected situations.

Paul Harvey, SLRC Director

When people think about projects aimed at supporting livelihoods, the focus tends to be on trying to increase people’s incomes or productive capacities. Aid agencies distribute seeds, provide loans to small businesses and try to stimulate value chains. Largely ignored in attempts to support livelihoods is the expenditure side of the equation – what people have to spend in order to keep their children in school, get treatment when they are sick, buy and sell produce, travel to and from towns, and establish and maintain businesses. One way we’re hoping to correct this imbalance is by starting some joint work with the International Centre for Tax and Development on the relationships between taxation and livelihoods in conflict-affected situations. There’s a newly published working paper and initial empirical research being planned for later in the year.

Is it true that poor people are untaxed?

It’s fair to say that the growing development literature on taxation has not paid much attention either to the informal sector or to places affected by fragility and conflict. And when the informal sector is discussed, it’s often only in terms of how revenue authorities might be better able to tax informal economic activity – to bring the informal sector into the fold and regulate it. There’s often an assumption either that those working in the informal sector should be paying tax but are not or that they should be tax exempt for reasons of social equity and thus don’t deserve greater attention from those focussed on tax issues. But is this true?

While many individuals and households might not be paying official and codified taxes registered by national governments and central tax authorities, it does not follow that their livelihoods are going ‘untaxed’. Often they are paying a large number of formal and informal payments in the form of taxes, fees, licenses and bribes in order to keep their children in school, get health care and trade and produce goods. If we are interested in the relationship between taxation and livelihoods, then we should be considering the full range of payments that people have to make to get by and get out of poverty. We propose, therefore, a broader concept of taxation – one which captures both its formal and informal dimensions, and which might be defined as follows: ‘all payments that are made as the result of the exercise of political power or armed force (as opposed to market exchange)’.

From the point of view of an individual or a household, whether payments are formal or informal, legal or illegal makes little difference in terms of their impact on livelihoods. At a basic level, any form of taxation has an immediate negative effect on a household’s economy. When people have to pay fees to run a market stall or taxes when they trade livestock, then this reduces household income. Taxes incurred at markets or payments demanded when crossing administrative boundaries can reduce the profitability of producing goods for market, engaging in petty trade or starting small businesses. Further still, requirements to provide in-kind labour contributions to ‘community’ initiatives (such as road repair) can reduce the time available to engage in other productive activities, earn income through casual labour or migrate for work.

Good evidence on these issues is hard to come by. But the limited research that does exist suggests this is far from a trivial matter. In a previous SLRC blog, Katherine Haver told us how, in eastern DRC, for every 20-litre bottle of palm oil produced and sold at market, the state takes 7 litres (as well as $0.12) while the military takes a further 7 litres (plus $0.25). And then there’s another $10 per year to access the trees, plus a tax on the machine to extract the oil. A recent series of protection surveys by Oxfam similarly finds that ‘in many areas [of eastern DRC], extortion and illegal taxation mean that impoverished communities are viewed as a major commodity of war’. A study from last year on the livestock trade in Darfur found that the formal taxation burden had almost doubled between 2002 and 2011, and that traders now have to pay for armed guards to accompany their herds and numerous checkpoint fees to ensure safe passage.

Why should we be interested in these issues?

To the extent that taxes enable governments to deliver services, ensure security and create a regulatory environment for business, taxes can have positive impacts on livelihoods. Being able to access basic services such as health and education, transport goods along roads that are maintained and make a living in a secure environment are all critical components to livelihoods. A focus on taxation may open up opportunities to create more resilient livelihoods by advocating for changes to how people are taxed.

A better understanding of how taxation works at the local level may also provide a contribution to debates around state-building in fragile and conflict-affected situations. These have often been framed around the idea that if the state can be supported to do more for its citizens in terms of delivering basic services and ensuring greater security and justice, then state-building outcomes will follow. Relatively neglected in debates about what creates legitimacy and so strengthens states are questions about how state actors could become less predatory and extractive. A focus on how people are currently taxed and whether this could be shifted to be less negative and better linked to provision of services could contribute to state-building debates.

Together with our colleagues at ICTD, we think this is an under-researched area, and our working paper makes the predictable point that evidence on the relationships between taxation and livelihoods in countries affected by conflict is thin. So, in looking at the intersection of taxes and livelihoods, our planned empirical research will be focusing on four key themes:

1) The full extent of formal and informal taxation incurred by individuals, households and small businesses. For example, as an overall proportion of household income or of business costs.

2) The positive material impacts of formal and informal taxation. That is, where paying taxes results in a benefit, whether it be formal and legal (such as receiving health care) or informal and unofficial (for instance, getting onto a food aid list).

3) The relationship between taxation and livelihood choices and behaviours. How does the extent and nature of taxation affect what people do in order to make a living? For example, do people in eastern DRC give up palm oil production because it’s too heavily taxed to be worthwhile?

4) The relationship between taxation and governance. Does the way people are taxed (formally and informally, corruptly and legally) affect their views of the legitimacy of the state? Here we will be exploring the potential transformative, socio-political effects of taxation.

We’d be keen to hear from other people working on these issues, anyone planning or already doing research asking similar questions, and examples from other contexts of how taxation – broadly defined to cover both its formal and informal dimensions – impacts on people’s ability to make a living both during and after war and violent conflict.

29 May 2013 17:27

"With these elections, Pakistan has taken an important step towards democracy, but to transform the country in more fundamental ways will require more than (recycled) electoral promises. What Pakistan needs is a bold plan of action, and whether Sharif and his party can deliver on it remains the ultimate question."

Maryam Mohsin, SLRC Research Uptake Manager

Read more: http://www.odi.org.uk/opinion/7451-pakistan-election-2013-democracy-governance
04 April 2013 10:49

"The WDR 2013 has created space for discussion of employment issues in fragile and conflict-affected situations. But we now need to build on the momentum around the current ‘good jobs’ agenda by taking questions of politics, governance and state-society relations seriously, and working out what they might mean for people’s access to employment and markets."

Steve Commins, SLRC Researcher, Pakistan Team


As a member of the core team responsible for the 2004 World Development Report (WDR) –  Making Services Work for Poor People – and a consultant to the team that produced WDR 2007 – Development and the Next Generation – I appreciate the scale of the task faced by a WDR team working in a tight timeframe.

In reading the overview to WDR 2013 – Jobs – one thing I particularly appreciated was the way in which this Report, somewhat unusually, built upon a number of themes from previous WDRs, including gender, conflict, youth and urbanization. And, in my view, the connections with previous themes deepened the analysis and added more depth and nuance to the document.

What is missing from the WDR 2013?

Having said that, one area that the report could have usefully explored further, and to which the Bank and other donors should really give more attention, is the political economy of jobs and livelihoods policies. The World Bank and DFID have, amongst others, increasingly focused their discussions and activities on good governance, ambitiously attempting to strengthen mechanisms for social accountability. But the connections between politics and access to good jobs and employment have long been overlooked in the governance and accountability literature (my SLRC colleague, Rich Mallett, argues a similar point here).

This is a problem. As with basic services, clientelism – a method of political distribution and exchange that is conditional on the behaviours, identities and allegiances of individuals and communities – may involve governments designing policies that are structured in ways to benefit specific political allies or favoured religious and ethnic groups. This divide, rather than a clear 'rich' versus 'poor' or 'middle class' versus ‘lower class’, may be an important analytical issue for donors and government reformers in relation to access to employment and livelihood opportunities.

The WDR 2004 introduced the ‘accountability triangle’ to explore the links between governments, service users and providers, and sought to highlight the political nature of service delivery. But, in retrospect, this element of basic services probably required even more emphasis and analysis, as many of the obstacles to service access and delivery that have been studied over the past decade are the result of politics – not some technical failure. Importantly, and as hinted at above, these issues are not confined to the arena of service delivery. If we look, for example, at public works programmes, a good case for examination might be NREGA – India’s pioneering National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. The initiative was recently praised by a senior UN official as ‘exceptional’, but in practice it suffers from problems of corruption and capture, notably linked to the caste and clientelist politics on a state by state or district by district basis in India.

Access to jobs is not a technical issue, but rather goes to the heart of state-society relations

For the policies outlined in the WDR 2013 on jobs, and for alternatives to those policies as well, greater attention needs to be paid not only to the way in which political relations shape jobs policies, but also to the relationship between citizens and the state. We often hear donors and governments talk of the need to enhance citizen engagement in political processes, but making sure this happens in reality is not easy.

Research suggests that for citizen voice to be effective it requires significant engagement and support, as well as channels through which voice can be exercised. Yet, while there are many examples of how states and civic organizations have sought to establish more consistent and institutionalised channels for civic engagement – such as public hearings and consultations, village development committees and participatory district planning councils – it is important to recognize that these are not neutral spaces. Governance and accountability research has shown us how control of the terms of engagement, participation and inclusion is a key issue that must be considered when trying to link citizens to their government institutions. Channels designed to increase citizen voice both reflect, and are infused with, the dynamics of state-society relations – something which may become more problematic in fragile and conflict-affected situations where being overt in voice can be a risky undertaking, with citizens becoming reluctant to ‘speak up’ out of fear.

Relating these points back to the question of jobs and employment, we are confronted with a fundamental question:

If civic engagement is about power relations – among citizens, between citizens and the state and other powerful actors, and between different layers of the state – where and how do livelihood activities and priorities, as well as the political dynamics of markets, affect these relationships?

The WDR 2013 has created space for discussion of these issues, but we now need to build on the momentum around the ‘good jobs’ agenda by taking the ‘governance of livelihoods’ seriously.


An earlier version of this blog was posted on Public World.



20 March 2013 16:06

"A proper mechanism for implementation is needed to address the practical shortcomings of this important and commendable initiative."

Sony KC, SLRC Nepal Researcher

Ageing is inevitable. Life becomes a challenge as we grow old, particularly from an economic perspective if you’re in Nepal, something I was reminded of after a recent research trip to Liwang, Rolpa. In Nepal, being elderly without sufficient savings or anyone to look after you is a common occurrence. During the course of the decade long armed conflict led by Maoist insurgents between 1996 and 2006, which claimed around 13,000 lives and displaced over 200,000 people, Nepal’s elders were physically unable or reluctant to leave their homes, despite some living in areas heavily affected by the conflict. Many lost their children or saw their sons migrate out of Nepal.

This context, combined with changing perceptions amongst younger generations about their role and responsibilities in the traditional family set-up, seems to have resulted in a breakdown of traditional forms of social solidarity, and has left the elderly largely neglected.

In attempt to address this issue the government of Nepal has created an inclusive social pension in 1995, the Old Age Allowance, which every elderly Nepali has the right to obtain. Thousands of elderly are now entitled to the benefits every month. However, geographical remoteness, high travel costs and poor implementation, due to weak local capacity to implement this reform, means that this right has yet to be realised. A proper mechanism for implementation is needed to address the practical shortcomings of this important and commendable initiative.

On Sept 25 2012, I went to Liwang, Rolpa, often remembered due to the insurgency, to conduct a survey on livelihoods, basic services and social protection for the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium. Rolpa is spectacular, but its landscape is difficult to traverse, even for the fit and able. Imagine imposing high hilltops and cliffs with treacherous sharp drops. The sheer difficulty in reaching those we were hoping to interview made me wonder how the elderly residing there managed to get to the district headquarters to collect their allowance.

Whilst staying in Liwang, I spoke to many elders who told me about the pension scheme, how they spent the money and the difficulties involved in obtaining it. Many were forced to rely on relatives to help them undergo the journey, when and if they were well enough to travel. Those living relatively close to the pension distribution headquarters had easier access, but for those living further away the journey was often out of the question. Even after having completed the journey, some arrived to find they were unable to get what they were entitled to thanks to an inadequate flow of funds from the central budget, resulting in a waste of time, effort and money. Because of this, many of those interviewed showed no interest in collecting their money, stating that the cost and uncertainty involved was too high.

Interestingly, those who were receiving the benefits, despite the difficulties, were content that the state was doing something to support them and saw this as a sign of respect.  As one senior citizen said, “We are happy, not because we get Rs 500, but because the state has dignified us at this age.” 

The most positive impact the state pension seems to have made so far is the dignity it ascribes to the elderly and its attempt to be inclusive, as there is no ethnicity or caste barrier. The major hurdle seems to be the disproportionate cost and effort that goes into accessing the pension scheme, which is deemed largely unreliable. Fixed collection dates and adequate funding allocation were the two main recommendations suggested by the elderly interviewed. As an 80 year old elderly man affirmed, “What is Rs 500 when we have to walk for hours and come back empty-handed after being told that the money has not arrived?”

The provision of this allowance is an important and widely appreciated first step towards offering security to those elderly people without an income and living alone or in rural areas, but more work needs to be done to overcome issues around accessibility and the mechanisms needed to deliver the pensions so elderly people in the remotest areas are not excluded. This could be achieved through creating a reliable means of acquiring the allowance, ensuring regularity in payment, as well as monitoring and assessing the impact of the provision. SLRC's partners in Nepal, NCCR, will be conducting a survey looking at the Old Age Allowance at the end of 2013 in Bardiya district to assess the effectiveness of the scheme.

We laud the state for the thought given to our nation’s respected elderly, but adding effectiveness to it will make that thought count for more.

Written by Richard Mallett on 11 March 2013 12:58

"The case of job creation is symptomatic of a broader issue: that, perhaps because of the absence of high quality impact data, largely unjustified assumptions shape policy and programming choices in conflict-affected situations."

Richard Mallett, SLRC Research Officer

Read more: http://inec.usip.org/blog/2013/mar/10/supply-and-demand-power-and-data-case-more-restrained-handling-job-creation-program

Written by Paul Harvey on 01 March 2013 15:24

"Difficult and risky contexts should not be an excuse for inaction or inadequate action when it comes to securing livelihoods"

Paul Harvey, SLRC Director

I’m just back from a short trip to DRC which included a few days in Bukavu with our DRC research partner ISDR and meetings with people working for international agencies. One of the things that I was asking about was what different actors were doing to support livelihoods in eastern DRC. It’s a familiar and pretty thin list. There’s some food aid, although less than I expected with 350,000 beneficiaries in 2012 from a population of 4.6 million and half of those accounted by school feeding. There’s a fair amount of seeds and tool distributions and now seed fairs and vouchers. After that you have to start scratching around for further examples – a bit of micro-finance, surprisingly few market chain focussed interventions, a little bit of agricultural extension advice, some support to small livestock (chickens, goats and surprisingly guinea pigs) and not much else that I came across. Now that summary comes with a hefty caveat that I was only in town for a few days, didn't talk to everyone and make no claims at all to being comprehensive (do let me know what I've missed in the comments section). But it’s a list that’s depressingly consistent with the findings from ‘Missing the Point’ from a review for ECHO of their funding for livelihoods programmes  and work for WFP evaluating their approach to livelihoods programming.

There are, I think, three basic problems with much aid intended to support livelihoods in fragile and conflict affected places. They are:

  1. Lack of scale and coverage
  2. The one cabbage problem
  3. Lack of imagination and creativity

The first problem is that any livelihoods programming is often relatively small-scale and covering a tiny proportion of the population in need (whether through food insecurity, poverty or displacement). When asked why this is, aid agency staff generally cite the difficulties of scaling up given ongoing insecurity and conflict. But in eastern DRC there are large-scale aid programmes supporting health care, IRC has been implementing a large-scale community driven development programme (Tuungaane) for several years and UNICEF coordinates a large-scale non-food item response to displacement. So the security constraints don’t seem insurmountable – if you can get drugs to clinics and kitchen sets to displaced people then assistance to help people make a living shouldn't be impossible. The lack of scale also seems wrapped up in the idea that support to livelihoods is ‘developmental’ and that donors are reluctant to fund longer-term approaches in a situation where humanitarian funding streams and approaches remain dominant. That’s depressingly true but hasn't stopped longer-term approaches in other sectors such as health and again seems an insufficient and bad reason for inaction. Maybe the new enthusiasm for resilience will help to reinvigorate the old need for better ways of linking relief and development and help donors and agencies see the need for both short and long-term approaches to helping people make a living.

The second problem is one that I've labelled the ‘one cabbage problem’ ever since seeing too many community vegetable gardens in southern Africa in the early 2000s. What I mean by it is that too often, if you dig into the detail of expected benefits from a programme aimed at supporting livelihoods then the net impact on the income of an individual household is likely to be tiny. There are myriad examples of this – ‘community’ projects where each individual household can expect little in return for high investments in time and effort, cash and food for work projects where participation is rationed so any one household can only get a few days pay and food aid where traditions of sharing mean rations are spread thinly between many more households than the intended target.

And the final problem is back to where I started – the depressingly short list of interventions that are being tried to support livelihoods. We still haven’t got much beyond seeds and tools. It would be exciting to see more attention to markets and value chains, to livestock, to petty trading and casual labour, to urban livelihoods and rural to urban links, to remittances and financial inclusion and to land rights but there isn't much sign of it. And there’s not much sign of the humanitarian system learning from best practice in support to livelihoods elsewhere. For an example of scale and ambition there’s the Chars Livelihoods Programme in Bangladesh.

None of which is meant to imply that supporting livelihoods is straightforward in places where conflict and violence are still pervasive. There’s an obvious objection that investments in livelihoods are likely to be reversed when the recipient is robbed or has to flee his / her village for the 3rd time in 3 years. And the risk that livelihoods investments can themselves put people at risk of violence. So supporting livelihoods needs to be sensitive to how conflict affects peoples’ choices and linked much more strongly to protection. But the fact that it’s difficult and risky should not be an excuse for inaction or inadequate action. So here’s hoping that when I'm next in Bukavu I hear about a 12 year programme aiming to support the livelihoods of over a million people in a significant way.

14 February 2013 13:56
  "It’s very important that development initiatives – as important as they are – do not result in displacing people from fertile agricultural lands, otherwise they risk having far-reaching negative effects on the health and well-being of the entire nation"

SLRC partner, CEPA

SLRC partners, CEPA, looks at the boom in the number of infrastructure projects, as well as private sector initiatives, in the tourism industry and many industrial sectors in Post-war Sri Lanka. These activities create livelihood opportunities in areas that had been deprived of development for many decades. However, a number of these ventures continue to displace people from their homes as well as from rich lands that provide food and nutrition.

Read the full article: http://lmd.lk/2013/01/01/food-security/

05 February 2013 10:06
"Multiple taxes imposed on small scale subsistence farmers is a very common in Nepal – but this often means that once farmers finally get their produce to market, they are left with little to show for their hard work."

Bishnu Upreti, SLRC Nepal Leader

Back in November, Katherine Haver wrote in this SLRC blog about taxation and people’s livelihoods in eastern DRC. In it she talked about how ordinary people are forced to pay what are often exorbitant fees on their produce in order to gain market access, as well as the complex, hybrid nature of tax regimes in that particular part of the country. Unfortunately, this is by no means a unique situation. As can be seen in the case of Nepal, multiple taxes imposed on small scale subsistence farmers is a very common phenomenon – a phenomenon which often means that once farmers finally get their produce to market, they are left with little to show for their hard work.

So what happens?

Farmers living near big cities and town centres produce milk, vegetables, potato, eggs, chicken, honey and vegetable seeds, often with the intention of selling them in urban markets. Technically, according to the tax related acts and provisions of the government of Nepal, small scale farmers do not need to pay tax for their agricultural commodities while transporting them within the country. 

But the reality is very different. From the point of origin of their produce to its final destination, farmers are stung with multiple taxes enforced by a range of local government organizations, from municipalities to Village Development Committees (VDCs) to District Development Committees (DDCs). Acting autonomously, these various forms of local government have the power to decide exactly how much tax is imposed on agricultural commodities – and how many times it is charged. For example, a farmer passing through, say, five collection posts will be taxed an equivalent five times on the same produce.

And it doesn't stop there. When farmers go to collect their produce from neighbouring districts, the local government collects nikasi kar – essentially, an export tax – when the produce crosses a district boundary. Further, drivers transporting commodities are forced to pay a road tax, which they will often simply charge back to farmers.

Why does it happen?

Part of this situation arguably stems from the Local Self Governance Act of 1999, which empowered different forms of local government (such as those mentioned above) to collect taxes at the local level. While the Act represented a promising and much needed step towards greater decentralization in Nepal, it has also helped create a complicated and confusing regime of tax laws which has not been accompanied by effective monitoring mechanisms. Faced with a severe lack of alternative livelihood options, poor farmers are thus effectively left with little or no choice but to pay the multiple taxes in order to sell their produce at markets. 

In a promising move, this is an issue which has been presented to Nepal’s Supreme Court. However, while the Court reached the decision to outlaw any imposed taxes except those collected at a commodity’s origin, the implementation of this ruling has proven difficult to enforce. The lack of adequate monitoring mechanisms has not helped matters. Until these good intentions are followed up with proper implementation – which is in turn dependent on political support – Nepal’s farmers will continue to be subjected to the strangling effects of multiple taxation.

21 January 2013 10:41

"How are people’s attitudes towards government are affected when they are accessing services in two countries simultaneously?"

Bishnu Upreti, SLRC Nepal Leader and Rachel Slater, SLRC Research Director

We (Bishnu Upreti, SLRC Nepal Leader and Rachel Slater, SLRC Research Director) were in Ilam District in the far east of Nepal last month, learning from enumerators about their experiences of implementing the SLRC’s quantitative survey.  SLRC is carrying out survey work in all seven focus countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, DRC, Uganda and South Sudan) to explore how people’s livelihoods recover after conflict and how delivery of basic services and social protection might affect state legitimacy.

One of the issues that came up was new to the whole enumerator team and unique to one of the wards covered so far in the district.  In that ward, the lack of local health services meant that people were crossing the border (ten minutes away by car or motorbike) to go to clinics and hospitals in India.  It is not a scenario that the Nepal survey team has faced before and the team were not sure whether, if someone was accessing health or education services across the border, it made sense to ask about satisfaction with those services.  We had to find a way of differentiating between people’s satisfaction with local and international services when recording their responses.  Thankfully, we have only encountered a very small number of cases so are now able to make a clear differentiation.  But it does raise a broader question for us about how people’s attitudes towards government are affected when they have clear comparators because they are accessing services in two countries simultaneously.

We’ve heard about similar issues before.  The Justice and Security Research Programme, which is running alongside SLRC in DRC, Uganda and South Sudan, is focusing on looking at and analysing justice and security in cross-border regions.  For them, hybrid political orders do not follow official borders and are not constrained by the territory of a sovereign state.  At a recent  conference on health systems strengthening in fragile states held by Medicus Mundi International and CordAid, Elies van Belle of Memisa, described how refugees in Uganda, who had fled from violence in eastern DRC, were crossing Lake Albert back to DRC  back to DRC in order to access health services in 2006. Although it was still too violent and insecure for refugees to return to DRC to live, they were somehow able (and wanted) to go there to access health services.  The Uganda / DRC case is movement in the opposite direction to that found in eastern Nepal  - in Uganda / DRC people are returning home temporarily to access services whilst in Nepal they are going away from home temporarily to access services.

So far, we’ve not encountered this anywhere else in the SLRC survey countries (though we are still in the field in some places so we may hear more on this from our other country survey teams!).  Until the Nepal survey is complete we will not know the frequency with which cross-border service access occurs in our SLRC Nepal sample of 3175 households.  However, it has already got us thinking about how to tackle this additional layer of comparison in our analysis.  The longitudinal element of our survey means that we will be comparing access to services and the quality of those services in 2012/13 with 2015/2016.  But what do we need to do to if people are not just comparing services over time but also between different countries?  Do border citizens have different expectations of their governments, based on what they are able to receive across the border?  Please post your experiences and if you have the answer let us know!

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Written by Paul Harvey on 09 January 2013 17:53

"We've pick out a few good reads which look at different forms of taxation, development, governance and the New Deal."

Paul Harvey, SLRC Director

There’s been a burgeoning interest in issues around development and taxation recently but surprisingly little of it has looked at the impact of taxation on people’s livelihoods or examined issues of conflict and fragility. What I did find was a few good reads on ‘informal taxation’ described below which I was reading because the SLRC is exploring the possibility of developing a proposal with the ICTD on tax and livelihoods in conflicts. If you’re working on any of these issues do get in touch.

Twenty years old now but well worth digging out is a journal article by Prud’homme on informal taxation, which looked at how people were taxed at a local level in Zaire. He distinguished six types of informal taxation; 1) ‘pinch’ or the part of taxes siphoned off by tax collectors and administrators; 2) extortions; 3) requisitions; 4) contributions; 5) gifts and 6) donations (to schools). Importantly, as well as describing the processes the article tries to estimate the magnitude of informal taxation and estimates it as five to ten times larger than formal taxation. Also intriguingly, he argues that ‘informal taxation is a cost-effective way of producing local public services and should not be discouraged’.  His call for ‘more attention to understanding informal taxation processes’ remains largely unheeded.

A much more recent article by Olken and SInghal also looks at informal taxation. It analyses household survey data in ten countries to look at the magnitude, distributional impacts and forms of informal taxation. Its focus is on how people pay in both money and labour to the construction and maintenance of local public goods through systems such as gotong royong in Indonesia. It finds that this sort of informal taxation is widespread and often forms a substantial share of local revenue. It forms a small share of household expenditure and a modest share of total taxes paid by households. The definition of ‘informal taxation’ being used here is very different and much narrower than in Prud’homme’s article but some of the conclusions are similar – the strange neglect of informal taxation in the development literature and so a failure to understand its implications both for people’s livelihoods and for local level governance and government policies.

A World Bank review of the literature on subnational taxation is a drier read. It finds that for decentralisation to work ‘subnational governments require significant real taxing power’. It argues that that there are several potentially sound and productive taxes that could be used, notably regional excises (on vehicles and fuel), making sales and business taxes more effective and exploiting property taxes as fully as possible.

Fjeldstad and Semboja point to the large number of local taxes in Tanzania and their significant economic, political and social impacts in spite of the fact that they represent a small percentage of total national tax revenues. They found that local authorities levy a large number of taxes, licenses, fees and charges which are often hard to distinguish, pointing to the need to define taxation broadly. The description of the fantastic complexity of licenses at District Council level was pleasingly vivid; ‘the by-law on hawking and street trading in Kibaha DC specifies in detail 38 different components (including licenses for bicycles, tyre puncture repairs, shoe shiner, car wash, carpenter, firewood, potato chips seller etc).

Devas, in a project which carried out research in Georgia, Ukraine, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Sierra Leone, found that the local informal economy is being ‘taxed’ in ways that create burdens for informal sector business but these taxes are often not generating resources for local governments to improve local service provision. The limited range of local taxes meant that there is widespread use of instruments such as business licenses, market charges, building permits and road tolls. The revenue instruments that do exist are often poorly administered and levels of collusion, evasion and fraud are high. He found that, ‘nowhere did there seem to be any serious attempt to curb unofficial or illegal levies.’

A great read that does look at how taxation (broadly defined) impacts on livelihoods is a World Bank report looking at poor traders and cross border trade between the DRC and its neighbours (facilitating cross border trade between the DRC and its neighbours). It found that, ‘the livelihoods and activities of the primarily female traders are currently being undermined by high levels of harassment and physical violence at the border and the prevalence of unofficial payments and bribes’. A female egg and sugar trader interviewed talked about having to give an egg to each official and that ‘some days I have to give away 30 eggs’.

On another subject I was reading up on the implementation of the ‘New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States’. ‘Promises and Pitfalls' by Stewart Patrick stresses that, whist the New Deal has a lot going for it, a huge stumbling block is the ‘ugly reality of fragile state governance’. He argues that at its foundation the New Deal presumes that governments are weak but well intentioned when they might be run by corrupt even kleptocratic elites. To which I’d add that it also assumes that relations between donors and fragile state governments are positive and risks neglecting some of the hardest places to make progress where relationships are much more difficult.

That sent me back to a review by ODI from 2004. It is a measure of how fast the debate on fragile states has moved that the term itself is a relatively new one. Less than 10 years ago, the tendency was to talk about ‘poorly performing’ countries. A review by ODI of that debate is well worth digging out because of its emphasis on the relational aspects of labels whether they’re ‘poor performer’ or ‘fragile’. It concluded that, ‘the problem of poorly performing countries must also be understood as relational, in other words that the labelling of a country as poorly performing is in part a reflection of the political, security and aid relations between the country and the international community’. This perspective on the importance of relations between conflict and fragile affected countries and the international community has been somewhat lost in more recent debates about fragility but it continues to play an important role in how and with what aid instruments donor countries seek to support populations in need.

Finally, there a new IDS report on governance in Sierra Leone which looks at the role played by chiefs both during the war and after it. It finds that many chiefs hung on to their legitimacy or were quickly restored to power after the war. It introduced (to me at least) some new terminology, ‘multileveled and networked governance’ and the fact that there is a research programme at IDS led by David Leonard focused on ‘security in an Africa of Networked, Multilevel Governance. 
Written by Rachel Slater on 19 December 2012 17:13

"Are people right to be so scathing or sceptical about us trying to use quantitative survey methods in the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium, or about us attempting a panel?" 

SLRC Research Director, Rachel Slater

SLRC is doing a quantitative survey in its seven focus countries to explore how livelihoods recover following conflict and how access to basic services affects perceptions of government.  Not only are we trying to do a representative, statistically significant survey, we aim to make it into a longitudinal panel by returning to the same households in three years time.  We have just completed the first round of the survey in DRC, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, are currently in the field in Uganda, and will go to the field soon in Afghanistan.

When I tell people that we are doing a quantitative panel survey, I get three reactions from people. The first is a frown. It may be accompanied by the second reaction – (often fierce) shaking of the head.  The third (definitely the worst!) is a reaction which feels like I'm being patted on the head and told ‘never mind, my dear, you’ll soon learn’.  So, are people right to be so scathing or sceptical about us trying to use quantitative survey methods in the SLRC, or about us attempting a panel?

We certainly recognise that our approach brings risks – especially the security of our respondents and enumerators – but after spending the time last month with the SLRC Nepal survey team, in Ilam district in the far west of the country, I'm more convinced that our approach is justified. This is why:

Enumerator(s) picking their way across a small landslide in Eastern Nepal

It starts with the journey into Ilam.  We fly to Biratnagar and then on by road.  At one stage we stop for tea (a famous Ilam product) and across the valley see a huge landslip scarring the mountainside.  On closer inspection, we realise that it is the landslip of 30th September.  I can feel the heart of Bishnu (SLRC’s leader in Nepal) grow heavy as we contemplate the 22 bodies forever entombed in the mud, soil and rocks.  A few days later, I find myself gingerly picking my way across smaller landslip, urging the team of ten enumerators in front of me not to dawdle and to stop chattering so they can hear any rock fall coming from above.  All this reminds me that, as a team, we frequently catch ourselves sliding into what we've called ‘conflict exceptionalism’, where we automatically assume that conflict is the cause, or outcome of all that we find.  Here in Nepal, I'm reminded at every turn of the path winding from one household to the next that there are numerous threats to people’s livelihoods and well-being and that our survey will help to capture that multiplicity.  

We also face other challenges in the survey that are not directly related to conflict: enumerators walking up to five hours between households; difficulties preventing a small (or large!) crowd gathering to listen to (and sometimes attempt to join in with) the interview; very elderly respondents who, although we’d love to know more about how they perceive the government, cannot understand our questions well.  In Bardiya district, where young women and girls were being kidnapped and taken across the border into service in India, we had to reorganise our enumerator teams to ensure that all our female enumerators worked far from the border.

So, should we avoid doing quantitative work in conflict-affected places because of these challenges? I’m left feeling that conflict should not be an automatic excuse for not doing quantitative survey work and that we need to look at situations on a case by case basis.  Nepal may currently be safer than Pakistan or DRC and these will certainly present other challenges, but nothing we have confronted so far is a reason not to try and deliver a high quality survey.

I find myself coming face to face with the second question – should we try a longitudinal panel? - in the first Ward where I accompany enumerators.  Beside the logistical challenges (for example attrition in our sample), we’ve been told by many people that that in three years we’ll never see enough shifts, either in people’s access to health, water, education and social protection, or in their attitudes towards government, for us to say anything useful about how far delivering services can contribute towards state legitimacy and state building.  And the truth is that we won’t and can’t know what change we’ll get until 2015.  Until now, we've been arguing that if we find very little change in access to services or to attitudes, this will at least contribute to a recognition of the sorts of timelines that are required to get changes in people’s perceptions of their governments.  Then, en route to our first interview, I'm taken by Suresh Prasain to look at the local health post.  It’s a small, dilapidated building but right next to it the foundations are being laid for a new 20 bed inpatient facility.  So here, at least, we are likely to see either some change in access to health service provision.  And if construction should grind to a halt, or the facility is not staffed, we can expect to hear our respondents voice their frustrations in three years’ time.

So, my visit to Ilam has left me feeling that in Nepal we can deliver a high quality survey and there is huge value in tracking change over the next 3 – 4 years.  We face significant logistical constraints, especially tracking down our respondents in the future, but we've a strong plan to tackle them.  Finally, the survey has thrown up some new analytical challenges for us to deal with – not least how we analyse ‘cross-border perceptions’ – but Bishnu and I will tell you more about that next week!

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Written by Paul Harvey on 10 December 2012 14:54

"The New Deal is an exciting new development, but this shouldn't prevent critical analysis of its limitations"

Paul Harvey, SLRC Director

The New Deal has been generally hailed as an important step forward in how the international aid system works with fragile states. I’d certainly agree with that and we hope, through the research of the SLRC, to contribute towards the evidence base of how to make progress against the peacebuilding and statebuilding goals that are at its core. The fact that fragile and conflict affected states were the driving force behind the initiative is hugely significant. However, the fact that it’s an exciting new development shouldn’t prevent critical analysis of its limitations, and in that spirit here are some very preliminary thoughts about the likely limits of its scope.

The New Deal is in some respects a restating within fragile contexts of Paris principles around ownership. National governments unsurprisingly, whether fragile or not, want to have greater sovereign authority around development planning processes and for aid to be provided within agreed nationally driven planning frameworks. As Booth argues, the Paris Declaration ‘makes the diplomatic assumption that recipient countries are already led by people for whom national development is a central objective’ and that sadly this is not always a valid assumption.

So the New Deal is all very well in contexts where OECD donors are politically supportive of fragile state regimes but fails down when they’re not. It’s relatively straightforward in East Timor or South Sudan but presumably isn’t meant to apply to North Korea and is pretty problematic in North Sudan, Myanmar and Zimbabwe. So the whole New Deal process leaves unresolved the age old problem of how international actors support vulnerable populations in places where donor governments are politically at odds with national governments.

Linked, but somewhat separate from this point about diplomatic relations between donors governments and the fragile countries that they hope to assist is the question of whether or not states that are fragile or affected by conflict have any interest in providing basic services to or supporting the livelihoods of their citizens. A central part of many definitions of fragility is governments that are ‘unwilling’ to provide basic services. This point has been made before. Stewart Patrick points out that a huge stumbling block for the New Deal is the ugly reality of fragile state governance and that; ‘its immediate application may be limited to well-meaning governments’.  But who decides whether or not states are legitimate? Clearly there are problems with donors sitting in judgement on other states but equally problematic is the idea of governments defining their legitimacy for themselves. More could perhaps be done to bring in the perspectives of people living in countries affected by conflict and fragility building on perception survey work such as that carried out by the Asia Foundation and expanding surveys like Afrobarometer into more fragile and conflict affected countries.

A response to this problem in a comment on Patrick’s piece from the coordinator of the International Dialogue on Statebuilding and Peacebuilding is a hope that the New Deal can inspire creative approaches and innovation. That it can be used by country level actors to push for different ways of doing business, that it can serve to pull together ‘well intentioned’ people and initiate gradual reforms and that the indicators being developed for the Peacebuilding and Statebuilding goals will ‘leave little space for hiding the poor investment in key areas like security’.

These are all good points and in piloting the New Deal, it clearly makes sense to start where it’s most possible to make progress. But there is a risk that in the enthusiasm for the New Deal and the desire for it to succeed the focus shifts to places where donor and host government relationships are positive and that this exacerbates the neglect of difficult places.

It is a measure of how fast the debate on fragile states has moved that the term itself is a relatively new one. Less than 10 years ago, the tendency was to talk about ‘poorly performing’ countries. A review by ODI of that debate concluded that, ‘the problem of poorly performing countries must also be understood as relational, in other words that the labelling of a country as poorly performing is in part a reflection of the political, security and aid relations between the country and the international community’. This perspective on the importance of relations between conflict and fragile affected countries and the international community has been somewhat lost in more recent debates about fragility but it continues to play an important role in how and with what aid instruments donor countries seek to support populations in need.

The New Deal has helped to advance the debate about how international aid deals with conflict and fragility but it’s important not to lose sight of the importance of political relations between countries in shaping how aid works in a fuzzy, feel good assumption that donor and recipient governments will always work happily together. Perhaps we should focus more on the term ‘deal’ and all that this implies in the sense of a transaction between parties with obligations on both sides for the deal to be fulfilled.

There’s a need in welcoming the New Deal and seeking to make progress in its implementation not to lose sight of countries where donors and the regimes currently in power are politically opposed. These have always been the contexts where aid is most difficult to deliver and where better alternatives to state-centric models for aid still need to be developed.

Welcome to SLRC's blog.

This blog will feature reflections from our team of researchers on the practicalities of actually conducting research in conflict-affected situations. We will also be posting guest blogs written by key researchers and practioners working on livelihoods, basic services and social protection in conflict-affected situations.