About 2 billion people live in fragile, conflict-affected places where government services fall short or are non-existent. Local people often do not trust the government and face insecurity daily.
How can development happen in such communities? How can governments and development partners balance the difficult trade-offs between delivering badly-needed services quickly versus long-term institution-building?
Part of the answer in Afghanistan, Myanmar and Yemen has been for governments and development partners to tap the expertise of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to provide services at the grass-roots level. A recent gathering of experts at the World Bank’s recent Fragility Forum 2016 looked at the role of NGOs in these countries in community-based or community-driven development.
For example, Myanmar’s National Community Driven Development Project, hired technical assistance providers at the township level to help build trust between communities and government, while providing much needed capacity and skills to jumpstart development in poor, rural areas, including areas affected by armed conflict, said Nikolas Myint, a World Bank senior social development specialist.
The project -- financed by IDA, the World Bank’s fund for the poorest countries – provides block grants for small public projects including school repairs, footpaths, feeder roads, water supply systems, and health centers. Local and international NGOs and private firms hire and train facilitators to help communities choose, design, and implement projects, Myint said.
In Afghanistan, similarly, the government has engaged local and international NGOs to mobilize and build the capacity of Community Development Councils (CDCs) under the IDA-financed Afghanistan National Solidarity Program in villages throughout the country. The program has established 35,000 community councils and provided grants to implement 89,000 small infrastructure projects.
The program has created a lot of jobs – about 40 million labor days – and trained 900,000 people in the process, said Tara Moayad, a policy specialist with the Aga Khan Foundation, an international development agency.
Moayad said the program has also instilled a sense of ownership in communities. For example, while thousands of schools have been burned down in Afghanistan, only one school was lost among communities in the program, she said.
In Yemen, NGOs have helped administer the Social Fund for Development, a publically funded program covering 14,000 villages. Until 2014, the program had created 24 million labor days in areas where jobs were scarce, and benefited about 4.5 million people, built schools, improved girls’ education and water services, and supported microfinance programs.
The ongoing conflict in Yemen has been a setback to the program and reversed many gains, said Afrah Alawi Al-Ahmadi, the World Bank’s lead on the project. Yet, the fund is one of the few sources of assistance still being supported by donors amid ongoing conflict and insecurity, she said.
Community-based development has been used in numerous countries and fragile settings with the help of NGOs. Over time, the approach has been found to reduce poverty, especially for the poorest communities. What is its potential to improve the lives of the 2 billion people living in places experiencing or recovering from conflict? The research is continuing.