Recognition of ''Self-help'' initiatives
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