|Volunteer Participation in Working with the Urban Poor (UNDP - UNV, 64 p.)|
|I. Urbanisation: recognition and response|
From city to city, particularly in Africa, the movement towards private sector involvement in meeting basic needs is growing. Informal sector activity has also increased, sometimes replacing traditional activities of the public sector in health services, transport, waste removal, drinking water supply, and even the supply of land. Structural adjustment measures supported by major donors have accelerated this process, especially since government-provided services have been subsidised. At the same time, government expenditures on housing, seen as a "welfare" rather than economic concern, suffered cuts.
It has been the governments, coming to terms with their own limitations, who have recognised that most of the efforts required to provide housing and services to low-income urban groups will have to come from these groups themselves and from the private sector. The "self-help" initiatives of communities, marked by the increase in private sector activity, show signs of providing effective and appropriate responses to their needs and concerns.
What happens to the balance between efficiency and equity when these services become privatised? The general experience is that the low-income communities "pay more for less." Generally, low-income urban communities with the least amount of resources are more likely to be left out of privately arranged and marketed services because they simply cannot afford them. Nevertheless, public service delivery rarely is more equitable than private service delivery. For example, when a huge demand surplus effectively introduces rationing, the mechanism of elite "connections" is likely to rule. In the end, many communities in developing countries find that within their given situations, it is preferable to place their faith in service arrangements that are accountable directly to the users.
Despite the shortcomings of the private and public sectors in providing services and other needs, the importance of community-based initiatives in addressing concerns and voicing needs to policy-making levels and other relevant parties cannot be overstated. When working from this community-based perspective, the livelihood and particular vulnerabilities, as well as existing "self-help" efforts, should be understood before designing any programme intervention so that responses may be complementary to existing community efforts.