Development and conflict Need for community-based approach

Krishna Man Pradhan:

The nine-year-long insurgency has rocked every sphere of life in Nepal. Amid the protracted conflict, concerns are deepening about how to guarantee the service delivery and development works at local level. The country ca-nnot afford to wait for the day the conflict ends to resume service delivery and development.

The service delivery and development initiatives, however, will have a direct bearing on the peaceful settlement of the conflict. This will lead to a situation where the rebels will gradually begin to lose the root causes based on which they launched the insurgency. Such a situation will be greatly favourable for peaceful settlement of the conflict. It is already clear that policies and laws framed for normal circumstances cannot adequately address the people’s problem during conflict period. This calls for a new sort of policy to address the problems during this interregnum of conflict as well as post-conflict reconstruction phase.

Broadly there are two perspectives of looking at the present situation in the country. The government and the Maoists hold two diametrically opposite viewpoints regarding the state of the country. To a large extent, the government’s central level offices are, indeed, functioning normally. But its district and local level machinery lies thoroughly disrupted.

The Maoists used to finance their operations by looting banks and imposing levy on teachers and employees. Along with their expanded organisation, their financial needs too have soared. They have star-ted extracting certain per cent from INGOs and NGOs. Meanwhile, the strategy of smashing the government development network, which they adopted during the initial years of insurgency, appears to have been fine-tuned because of the growing need for funding their organisation. This change has opened a window of opportunity for the development workers. If exploited this situation can be used to forward development and service delivery in villages.

Since the insurgency has shattered the foundation of ethnic hierarchical societal structure, and each and every ethnic community now wishes for peace, a kind of equilibrium has been created. So this is the appropriate time to bring forth radical changes in the socio-economic state of the people. But if we sit back with hands folded and wait for the conflict to end, we will lose this opportunity. Before delving into details of how to ensure uninterrupted service delivery amid conflict situation, it would be relevant to see how the current chain of government command works. At local level, people seek services like recommendations for citizenship, health, education and so on. It has been seen that they are largely ignorant and even nonchalant about big corruption that takes place at central level or even district level. But when they feel the brunt of corruption at the local level or when they have to spend extra money to get their citizenship or passport — they get angry. In the last nine years the Maoists have made every effort to smash this chain of structure. They have also tried to expose the corruption and tried to win sympathy from the people. They have succeeded in hiting at the link between the district and the villages to a large extent and have isolated the people.

So, what can be done to ensure service delivery at this juncture? One way is through holding of mobile camps. Because of its infrequency, it cannot give durable solution during conflict. A tentative solution to this dilemma could be creating a mid-point interface between the government officials and the village people. What we propose is that the development organisations (NGOs/INGOs) interact with the locals and assess their service needs, which will then be communicated to the district level officials of the government. Subsequently, officials will be made accessible to the locals at suitable mid-point in regular periods. While the locals with the help of development organisations will keep the records and provide other backup and supplementary services, the government officials will ultimately provide the state services in a planned manner.

Before launching this new policy, there is a need to lobby at central and local level about this issue within the civil society through group discussions on effective service delivery mechanism. The government should make temporary policy for service delivery at local level. There is no alternative mechanism for the service delivery through the local government. That is why, the government, donors and civil society have to think and come up with a new strategy if they want to work at local level on development issues.

The Maoists have shown their intent to disrupt this development linkage as well with an aim to isolate the people. The people, generally, wish for development. As long as development takes place in their villages, they do not mind who is carrying out the projects. Thus, it is clear that once the development organisations are allowed at the people’s level, carrying out development projects would be smooth. It is quite obvious that the existing machinery has not been able to undertake service delivery and development work satisfactorily. Community-based approach could be explored to advance the development amid conflict through target group. They should plan development activities themselves and donors and NGOs should support financially and technically.

Pradhan, executive director of Nepal Law Society, takes interest in rural development