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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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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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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 Rachel Slater on 12 November 2012 16:24
  "Since 2007, OECD DAC members have been signed up to state-building as the ‘central objective’ of their engagement in fragile and conflict-affected situations. It is a compelling narrative: deliver basic services (health, education water and sanitation) and – voilà! – better prospects for long-term peace and stability."

SLRC Research Director, Rachel Slater and Samuel Carpenter

Read more: http://www.odi.org.uk/opinion/6884-service-delivery-state-building-conflicted-affected-states

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.