People-centred process brings better living standards in 500 villages

United Nations know-how, Japanese funding, government support and a people-centred approach to development is transforming the lives and living standards of thousands of villagers in Chin, Shan, Kachin and Kayah states.

They are reaping the benefits of a memorandum of understanding signed by the Department of Rural Development under, Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and
Rural Development and the UN Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat) in May 2013.

The MOU was for a development and rehabilitation scheme in ethnic minority areas and it is helping to make a difference to a total of 10 townships in the four states, involving 509 villages.

For the 774 residents of Naung Pee Ywar Ma village at Pinlaung Township in southern Shan State the scheme has made a difference as big as night and day.

A mini-hydro plant is generating electricity for the village between 6pm and 6am, providing a regular, reliable source of light for residents who had previously relied on oil lamps and guttering candles to illuminate the darkness.

An obvious benefit of a power supply is making it easier for children in the Pa-O village of 167 households to acquire the light of knowledge.

“Having electric bulbs in our homes means it is easier for the children to read and study at night,” said village resident, U Yann, 52,

The mini-hydro plant, installed about a mile (1.6 kilometres) from the village, has a turbine generating 15 kVA (kilo volt amperes), or about 12 kilowatts, enough to power at least one bulb in each home for 12 hours overnight.

The turbine was made by an engineer using a 15 kVA dynamo imported from China and the cost of the system, including the power line to the village, was about K14 million (US$14,400), UN-Habitat told Mizzima Business Weekly.

The one-year scheme, for which the Japanese government has provided funding of US$4.6 million (about K4.42 billion), was launched in May last year.

UN-Habitat is providing equipment and materials for the scheme, which has been designed to give villagers the satisfaction of being involved in the development of their various communities through a people-centred approach.

The process begins with a needs assessment of the villages by UN-Habitat, Daw Cho Cho Lwin, a database associate in the agency’s Yangon office, told Mizzima Business Weekly.

The next step is a UN-Habitat review which takes into account community size and its likely level of participation in project implementation to help determine how much funding can be allocated to each village.

Village development committees are then established to give the residents a direct role in deciding and implementing projects, a process which helps to ensure their long-term success by giving each community a sense of ownership over the project.

Depending on the size of the development project, UN-Habitat allocates funding to each community in two or three tranches, said Daw Cho Cho Lwin.

Committee members in southern Shan State, where the scheme is helping to raise living standards in more than 100 villages in Pinlaung, Pekon and Pindaya townships, said they then take responsibility for funding management.

A development committee meeting held at Shwe Pyi Aye village in Pekon Township to discuss what projects it would propose to UN-Habitat attracted more than 200 of its 1,000 mainly Kayan and Pa-O residents, villager U Hla Tin, 43, told Mizzima Business Weekly.

The outcome of the meeting was proposals for projects to provide clean water, build a clinic and a pre-school and upgrade a road, said U Hla Tin, a Kayan, and a committee member.

Based on funding availability and the likely level of community participation, UN-Habitat ? which has supported projects in 55 villages in Pekon Township ? backed the proposal for a gravity-flow water supply system.

“We faced hard times before we had access to clean water,” said village resident U Nay Lin Tun, 43, who is also a committee member.

“Most people depended on rainwater sources for their drinking water supply and those who could afford it bought bottled water from Pekon town,” said U Nay Lin Tun, a Kayan.

He acknowledged that taking responsibility for the project had been a challenge.

“The residents of my village had no prior experience of people-centred development and we faced many challenges following the procedural guidelines set by UN-Habitat when we were implementing the project,” U Nay Lin Tun said.

The challenge, and the rewards for those who can meet it, was acknowledged by Ko Sai Thaw Zin Htet, 22, a database associate at UN-Habitat’s Pekon office.

“Most residents in the project areas [in Pekon Township] have a limited general knowledge and a basic education and do not have enough capacity to absorb all of the processes involved in the people-centred approach to project management,” Ko Sai Thaw Zin Htet said.

“But some of the residents who participate in the village development committees have the capacity to absorb and share knowledge and skills and then take a lead in managing the implementation of the development projects and ensuring they are properly maintained,” he said.

The need for the communities themselves to take responsibility for long-term maintenance can be challenging, said U Soe Moe Kyi, UN-Habitat’s township program coordinator in Pinlaung.

“Residents in project areas [of Pinlaung Township] can face challenges because they have only a limited amount of money to continue operating and maintaining projects,” U Soe Moe Kyi said.

He also acknowledged that the capacity to quickly acquire new skills can be difficult for those who had limited access to education.

U Soe Moe Kyi said about 80 percent of residents were capable of applying the skills acquired to implement projects in training courses covering such topics as community action planning, project operation and maintenance and intra-village knowledge sharing.

“They are eager to learn the skills necessary to support the infrastructure-based projects that meet essential needs in their villages,” he said.