Hasilpur adds to many other cases that demonstrate that development happens when people are facilitated to take charge of their own lives
“Development of the people, by the people, for the people” is a quote from Chapter 2 of the Sixth Five-Year Plan (1983-88). Written personally by the then deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Pakistan’s best known economist, Mahbub ul Haq, it was forgotten soon after it was published.
It resonated with me while sitting in a community conclave last week in Hasilpur. Located between the River Sutlej and the border with India, it is a remote, backward and largely desert tehsil of Bahawalpur district. Two-thirds of its population lives in rural areas, divided into 112 localities and 11 union councils (UCs). Its 54,913 households depend on small-scale cultivation, farm labour and livestock. In other words, it is inhabited by the people of whose development Mahbub ul Haq was talking about.
Some development did take place – poorly staffed and ill-maintained schools in some localities, hardly functional basic health units (BHUs) and a few veterinary dispensaries. Safe drinking water was unknown and sanitation a rarity. The development of the people was not a priority. In general, MNAs/ MPAs’ programmes, focused on rural roads and streets, have been a means of generating funds for re-election.
An exception in this regard, the villages of Hasilpur have a reasonably good road and street connectivity. (It seems that the people here do call their representatives to account.) Related to this is the fact that most of the houses are pucca.
Pucca streets and houses are necessary but not sufficient for development of the people. This requires development by the people through their active participation and the creation of social capital. Only then does it become development for the people. In Hasilpur, the creation of social capital has been facilitated by the National Rural Support Programme (NRSP). A pyramid of community organisations (COs) at the grassroots level, village organisations (Vos) at the village level and local support organisations at the UC level are organised with women as representatives of the households.
The idea is built around the common observation that women take better care of the collective interest of the household and community than men. Community is mobilised by setting up a revolving community investment fund (CIF), with one’s own savings and some seed money provided by the NRSP. Loans and grants are decided, based on the poverty scorecard and extended to community members against the community collateral. Defaults are rare.
In their pursuit of individual interest, the community members learn that borrowing for livestock, for instance, increases risk if there are no animal care facilities. Or an increase in income enables them to send children to school but they find that either there is no school in the vicinity or it is without a teacher or lacks basic minimum facilities.
Awareness sessions organised by the NRSP help further in understanding that there is a world beyond income generation and that investment in education and health enhances capabilities to generate incomes, besides producing rights-conscious citizenry. They begin to understand that the state is there to serve and not coerce. There are weaknesses in service delivery that the government departments and the community can overcome together. The departments may be underfunded but the worst thing is not to effectively utilise whatever is available. This is where LSOs come in.
In Hasilpur, the work of LSOs in engaging the community and linking it with education authorities has made a significant difference. LSO UC 58F increased school enrolment from 3,294 to 5,660. Five schools were provided missing facilities.
These LSOs have enthusiastic but informed community leaders who connect the officialdom with those in need. They promote demand for services and then facilitate departments to supply. Water, immunisation, sanitation and education (WISE) have been their focus in recent years in Hasilpur. It is hard to believe what has been achieved without actually visiting the area. I visited UCs 58, 79 and 89 along the Fateh canal, participated in the LSO sessions, went around villages and talked to communities and the concerned officials. What has been achieved under WISE is far above the officially reported national, provincial and district averages.
Water contamination is the source of many diseases. In the villages, there was little appreciation of its quality. Many had never heard of any water testing. The LSO UC 89F conducted a diagnostic and took actions accordingly. Over a thousand awareness sessions were conducted. Fifteen tests were carried out and the water sources safe for drinking were painted green and others red for easy identification.
Departments were convinced to install four filtration plants. LSO UC 79F has ensured clean water coverage of 99 percent and is continuing efforts to link stakeholders and the Public Health Engineering Department for more water filtration plants and supplies. Similarly, LSO UC 89 boasts clean water coverage of 89 percent. So serious are the LSOs about clean water that they tested even a filtration plant installed by Punjab Saaf Pani Company before painting it green.
Immunisation, the second pillar of WISE, involved campaigns to dispel various myths, doubts and fears cultivated by parents over the years. When demand was created, there were supply constraints in the form of shortage of vaccines or of vaccinators. Sometimes it was lack of transport and, at others, shortage of fuel.
The LSOs catalysed saving of fuel and vaccinators’ time by arranging meeting points in advance. They were also instrumental in increasing the number of vaccinators by the Health Department. LSO UC 58F found widespread disinformation about vaccination. It held 828 sessions to dispel the fears and deal with the anxieties of its members. Vaccinators had limited access. The LSO intervened to increase the number of vaccinators and their mobility on one hand and mobilised the community by advance announcements to get together at a designated point on the other. In LSO UC 79F, the community, its trained resource persons and vaccinators were able to take the immunisation coverage to 96 percent. The corresponding figure in LSO UC 89F is 98 percent.
Sanitation, the S in WISE, has become an insoluble problem in large cities with resources and manpower. At the tehsil level, the Public Health Engineering Department exist only in name. It is, therefore, too much to expect it to service rural areas. The LSOs’ contribution here has been outstanding. Entering the rural areas from Hasilpur city springs an immediate surprise: the sanitary condition in villages are much better.
LSO UC58F held over 800 awareness sessions about the relevant civic rights and citizens’ own responsibility to have latrines. As a result of its efforts, 4,107 latrines were constructed. The community recruited seven cleaners for the streets and provided them equipment to pick up waste from 78 specially provided dustbins outside the houses and deposit at a designated place secured from the Tehsil administration outside of village. LSO UC 79F mobilised stakeholders to achieve sanitation coverage of 91 percent; LSO UC 89F did even better at 93 percent.
Education is the last component identified in WISE, but not the least. The Hasilpur experience shows that the community can be mobilised to reduce the number of out-of-school children. Acknowledging the school-community linkages, the UNICEF has changed its strategy: “Socio-cultural demand-side barriers combined with economic factors together drive education deprivation for certain groups of children in Pakistan, particularly girls. These barriers are further exacerbated by a lack of parental awareness of early learning, importance of on-time enrolment and lack of social protection schemes. The UNICEF is, therefore, focusing more closely on the obstacles to on-time enrolment, retention, completion and transition.”
In Hasilpur, the work of LSOs in engaging the community and linking it with education authorities has made a significant difference. LSO UC 58F increased the enrolment from 3,294 to 5,660. Five schools were provided missing facilities and 15 dormant school councils were activated. LSO UC 79F went all out for 100 percent enrolment of children aged 4-12. Only 150 children born at the start of WISE were out of school. Now these children too are going to school. The coverage is 97 percent. Not to be left behind, LSO UC 89 has achieved 99 percent enrolment.
Achieving WISE targets inevitably involved the enhancement of civic rights. Examples include NADRA camps for CNIC registration of adults and B forms for children, campaigns for birth and death registration, and the beginning of divorce registration by women. In this elaborate concept of reducing multi-dimensional poverty, the community leaders and resource persons have been able to insert family planning messages, something that the government, especially after devolution, seems almost to have forgotten. The LSOs complained that there is demand now, but the supplies are lacking. The LSOs have also been able encourage the well-to-do in the area and overseas Pakistanis to assist in the form of filtration plants, community service buildings and schools.
Hasilpur adds to many other cases that demonstrate that development of the people happens when the people are facilitated to take charge of their own lives.
The writer is a senior political economist. He can be reached at email@example.com