TEN months after Sindh was struck by the floods of 2022, many parts of the province still lie devastated. Don’t our rulers care for their people? Or is it that they don’t understand what development really means?
It is generally believed that development involves pouring huge amounts into building infrastructure that may not even be practical or serve the purpose it is designed for. The community being a partner and a participant in development is something alien to most people.
Naween Mangi, the head of the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust in Khairo Dero (Larkana), learnt through her own experience that this kind of development does not work. Returning home after completing her higher education abroad, she was distressed by the abject poverty in her province and the ill-conceived notions of alleviating poverty through charity.
Naween’s ambition was to draw up a model for ‘development with dignity’. This, she realised, was possible only if the model was suited to indigenous conditions and the local population’s mindset. After 15 years of hard work, punctuated by successes and failures, a model appears to be emerging. Paradoxically, the floods and their aftermath have hastened this process.
What could be recovered from the debris was put to good use.
There are four basic principles that the Trust adopted. First, uphold the self-esteem and dignity of the people. That is why they have to pay something for what they receive. Secondly, ostentation should be shunned and wastage avoided to keep costs low and affordable for the poorest of the poor. Thirdly, the needs and priorities of the community should be anticipated so that they are met incrementally as the occasion arises. Finally, all this should create a sense of ownership in the community. This is essential if a project is to be durable and the community responsible for its maintenance.
By 2022, the AHMMT had moved ahead in several ways. A house-building programme had been put in place and the toilet and solar panels projects enabled house owners to upgrade their dwellings. The beneficiaries were the people of Khairo Dero, and also families in 300 surrounding villages. A health and population programme and a community school along with a girls’ tailoring skills training project were introduced. Farmers were empowered through an assistance programme that gave them tractors to plough their land at a low rate. Thus far, 107 farmers have benefited from this facility.
When the floods came in August 2022, work had to be done once the initial shock was over.
Knowing that shelter was the first priority of the people, rebuilding the houses was given immediate attention. Within a week, the project manager, Ramz Ali, set out to survey the damage and plan the rebuilding programme. All the houses affected by the rain and floods have now been repaired or rebuilt, to the relief of 1,050 families in 132 villages, Nothing, it seems, was wasted. What could be recovered from the debris, such as iron bars and bricks, was put to good use. The Trust may have provided the needed material and the services of 10 masons, but the other costs and the manual labour were the people’s contribution.
Other post-flood challenges followed and have been met. Inflation (40 per cent in the rural areas) was taken care of by the Sasto Dukan that offered staple food at subsidised rates. Ramz conducted a survey to identify the worst affected — 75 daily wage earners — who were issued ration cards.
Another challenge — crime — was met by creating community police comprising 10 trained men equipped with batons, torches and walkie talkies to patrol the entry/exit points duirng the night. The people of Khairo Dero could sleep again in peace.
Sanitation? The floods aggravated it. The open storm-water drainage, supposedly our solution to this problem, has compounded it. The Trust responded by creating a clean-up crew of seven workers whose responsibility was to keep the open drains free of the garbage that clogs them and adds to flooding when it rains.
This is true development. The inhabitants of Khairo Dero share the costs of what is spent on them so that they can hold their heads high. They are confident and have learnt how to solve their own problems. Above all, the women are now coming out to share the responsibilities they can undertake. There are six women working in the Trust’s office where there were none a few years ago. Above all, a new spirit of accord prevails since infighting in the community a few years ago had brought them to the verge of bloodshed and ripped the community apart. Then, sanity prevailed. The women played a key role in restraining the men. This would not have been possible without Naween Mangi’s sensible leadership.
Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2023