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close this bookThe Human Settlements Conditions of the World's Urban Poor (HABITAT, 1996, 233 p.)
close this folderVII. Agenda for future work
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentA. Countering urban poverty
View the documentB. Shelter, good governance and the enabling role
View the documentC. Specific policy areas in need of development
View the documentD. Strengthening shelter strategies for the poorest groups
View the documentE. Harnessing the benefits of research
View the documentF. The future role of local authorities
View the documentG. The role of CBOs and NGOs
View the documentH. The role of the private commercial sector

G. The role of CBOs and NGOs

The GSS places great emphasis on the role of CBOs and NGOs. This is a recognition of the reality that low-income communities themselves are the main providers of low-cost housing in developing countries and that these communities can provide housing at lower cost and on a much larger scale than government organized programmes (UNCHS/ILO, 1995). To improve the quality of informal settlements and extend infrastructure, however, and to ensure minimum standards in newly built settlements, these communities require a clear policy framework and support from government as well as readily available advice, guidance and organizational support from intermediary organizations, such as NGOs.

As outlined earlier (section VI.A.), UNCHS (Habitat) acknowledges that NGOs exercise comparative advantage not only in working with local communities to produce low-cost shelter and infrastructural provision, but also in mobilizing those communities and mediating between them and government officials or the private sector (UNCHS, 1993b). Turner (1988), also identifies three roles for NGOs in human settlements development, first as enablers of CBOs; secondly, as mediators between communities and the authorities controlling access to resources, goods and services; and thirdly, as advisors and consultants to those authorities on ways of amending rules and regulations in order to permit greater freedom for communities to develop and to access resources. They may also act as technical advisers to the communities themselves and provide training as part of their repertoire of activities.

NGOs and CBOs are by definition, however, very diverse organizations. They are unelected, or voluntary, organizations and whilst they may employ staff, they are invariably non-profit making bodies. They are inspired by a social commitment and their accountability is vested in the local communities they serve. They also vary very much in size, organizational structure, capacity and technical competence. Hence, the precise nature of their activity and the role they perform is often locally determined. In seeking to harness the involvement of NGOs in local shelter strategies, therefore, the task confronting governments is how to provide a clear policy framework within which very divergent NGOs can make a positive local contribution.

Experience suggests that this is not an easy proposition. Whilst there are many examples of effective partnership arrangements between governments and individual NGOs, involving NGOs in a strategic way appears to be more problematic. In Chile, for example, following the restoration of democracy in 1990, the government embarked on a national shelter strategy which sought the collaboration of NGOs in a community-based, participatory programme targeted on the poorest households. The involvement of NGOs, however, has not worked as well as was expected:

“On the one hand these organizations are few, they do not exist all over the country, and they normally work on a small scale. On the other hand, the coordination and collaboration between the Ministry of Housing and the NGOs has led to significant problems that in some cases have ended in many NGOs losing interest in [participating in] the [Progressive Housing Programme]” (Fernandez Prajoux, 1994).

The principal problems alluded to were, firstly, over the legal status of NGOs and the exclusion of any political activity from their remit; secondly, the financial strength of NGOs and most particularly those in receipt of government finance for development; and thirdly, difficulties in arriving at mutual procedures between government and NGOs. Alongside these problems, difficulties have also arisen over the levels of funding made available to NGOs, and over what the NGOs regard as exclusion from decision-making over policy.

The work undertaken by the NGOs confirms the advantage of their involvement, however; “the programmes which involve NGOs strengthen the solidarity of the groups living in extreme poverty and improve their quality of life as an expression of a new type of relationship within a more democratic and equitable society” (Fernandez Prajoux, 1994). What the Chilean experience demonstrates, is that despite a strong and mutual commitment to a collaborative working relationship it takes time and considerable effort to develop workmanlike procedures in a workable partnership.