Waging a Battle Against Environmental Injustice

Global Public Affairs (GPA) at UCLA Luskin welcomed Vivek Maru, founder and CEO of the legal advocacy nonprofit Namati, to campus on Oct. 24. In his talk entitled “The Global Struggle for Environmental Justice,” Maru shared three stories of local people — smallholder farmers in Sierra Leone, fisher people on the coast of India and families in an industrial zone of Baltimore — who used the law to stand up to industries polluting their communities. Their work was supported by Namati, which trains and deploys community paralegals around the world to help people understand and exercise their legal rights. Maru said isolated incidents can lead to great change in policies and systems. He stressed the importance of the “legal empowerment cycle,” in which grassroots experiences can trigger systemic change. Namati, founded in 2011, convenes the Global Legal Empowerment Network, more than 2,000 groups and 7,000 individuals from all over the world. Members collaborate on common challenges, such as enforcing environmental law and securing basic rights to healthcare and citizenship. More information about Maru’s work is available in a free e-book, published by Cambridge University Press. — John Danly

An advocate from Namati speaks with members of a community in Mozambique about their rights. Photo courtesy of Namati

Students Reflect on International Summer Fellowships

Global Public Affairs (GPA) at UCLA Luskin provided financial support and helped secure placements for eight graduate students to work in low- and middle-income countries this past summer. Student placements spanned the globe, from as close as Mexico City to as far as Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Olivia Miller, a second-year MSW candidate, spent the summer in Bogota, Colombia, conducting fieldwork related to transgender rights, including help in organizing the grassroots Trans Pride March. “I decidedly spent [my] first weeks dedicating myself to a contributive role, recognizing the chaos of the march preparation, and putting at the center the development of my relationships with the social justice activists on the frontlines of this movement,” she wrote on the GPA blog. Urban Planning students who participated in the summer International Practice Pathway (IPP) program gained experience in transportation and infrastructure. Liliana Morales, a 2020 MURP candidate, interned with the planning department at the Ministry of Mobility in Mexico City. “I feel incredibly fortunate to have worked with professionals that are passionate and dedicated to mobility justice,” she wrote. “Mexico City is working toward improving quality of life, reducing social inequalities, diminishing gas emissions and increasing productivity through a comprehensive system that guarantees decent and safe trips for all residents.” GPA, led by Professor Michael Storper and associate director Stephen Commins, is already getting ready for its next cohort of IPP fellows, as more than 60 new UCLA Luskin students attended the fall 2019 orientation lunch. — John Danly

Read more about students’ summer fellowships on the GPA blog.

A Caring Outlook Also Applies to Ourselves, Author Says

“Burnout is very much about how we work, and not only about how much we work,” according to psychologist Alessandra Pigni, author of “The Idealist’s Survival Kit. 75 Simple Ways to Prevent Burnout.” She spoke Feb. 15, 2018, as part of a series of talks sponsored by Global Public Affairs at UCLA Luskin. Pigni talked briefly about her personal experiences, including observing caregivers under extremely stressful conditions while working for several years in combat situations in the Middle East as part of Doctors Without Borders. Pigni also shared insights from her research into burnout, which is the subject of a book and a blog, which is how she first came to the attention of Stephen Commins of the UCLA Luskin faculty, who provided the introduction for Pigni’s talk. Her presentation focuses on identifying the signs of burnout and taking steps to prevent it, which she refers to as the ABCs of burnout prevention: awareness, balance and boundaries, and civility. “C is also for connections — connections with people beyond work. You are not just your job,” Pigni told the crowd. Later, she addressed the concerns of students who are just entering the workforce and may not feel empowered to take action if they find themselves in a toxic workplace. “You will not survive for very long in a work environment that mistreats you,” Pigni said. “You can make it for a few months, if necessary. Otherwise, run a mile if you are being mistreated.”

View a Flickr album from the presentation:

Author Alessandra Pigni

‘Catalytic Communities’ with Theresa Williamson

On Jan. 18, 2018, Theresa Williamson shared her experience as an community organizer in Rio de Janerio. In her presentation for the Global Public Affairs program at UCLA Luskin, she spoke of academic and practical ways to work with communities and empower them for positive development and change. Williamson walked through the thinking process and the lessons she learned from founding the organization. Click here to view the slides from her presentation.

View a Flickr album from Williamson’s talk:

'Catalytic Communities' with Theresa Williamson

Remembering the ‘Father of Urban Planning’ John Friedmann — renowned author, pioneer of theory and founding leader of UCLA Urban Planning — is remembered by colleagues, family and former students at memorial service

By Zev Hurwitz

The late John Friedmann is widely regarded as having pioneered the field of urban planning theory.

“Some call him the ‘Pope of planning’; others call him the ‘Father of Urban Planning,’” said Martin Wachs, distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning, during a memorial for Friedmann on Nov. 2, 2017. “He always chuckled and giggled about those labels, and he really didn’t take them seriously,” Wachs said, pausing and then lowering his voice. “I think, secretly inside, he really did.”

This mix of honorific praise, bittersweet memory and wry humor was commonplace as friends, family, former colleagues and Luskin students — current and past — joined together at the UCLA Faculty Center to remember Friedmann, who passed away in June at the age of 91. In addition to his work in urban planning theory, Friedmann presided over the founding of Urban Planning at UCLA in 1968 and served as its chair four times.

“While this is a memorial to celebrate John, it’s impossible to avoid feeling sad,” current chair of Urban Planning Vinit Mukhija said in his opening remarks.

Mukhija noted that Friedmann had remained close with the Luskin School of Public Affairs even after leaving Los Angeles in the late 1990s when his career and personal life took him to Melbourne, Australia, and then to Vancouver, British Columbia. At the time of his death, the department was hoping to have Friedmann return to Westwood to teach the Planning Theory course in the Ph.D. program, Mukhija told the crowd of more than 50 attendees.

“I think it would have been terrific for our doctoral students to have that, but unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be,” Mukhija said.

Mukhija, Wachs and others spoke of Friedmann’s elite standing in the field of urban planning. Friedmann wrote 18 books and more than 200 book chapters and articles. By themselves, his writings are cited more frequently than the aggregate works of any single planning program in the country, except for the Luskin School’s Department of Urban Planning.

“He was the intellectual force behind what we call ‘planning theory,’” Wachs said, noting that Friedmann also taught at MIT and in countries such as Brazil, Chile and Korea, as well as providing guest lectures at major universities around the world.

Friedmann’s accomplishments were many, but those in attendance also heard about a few of his foibles. Longtime love and wife Leonie Sandercock talked less of Friedmann the educator and more of Friedmann the man: “I feel so lucky to have spent 32 years next to this man, who I adored, and I struggled with and I rolled my eyes at, and I shared my life with. I’m happy that his life touched so many others.”

Sandercock and Friedmann fell in love while corresponding via handwritten letters as pen pals when Friedmann was at UCLA and Sandercock was in her native Australia. A highly accomplished planner herself, Sandercock said Friedmann’s intellectual acumen never waned. “He was still living fully,” Sandercock said of her husband’s final days.

Friedmann was often reflective, Sandercock said, telling of a recent encounter after a walk through nature, when Friedmann ticked off the “lucky things” that had led him to this point in life. Meeting Sandercock was one, she said with a smile. Being denied tenure at MIT was another — it led him to pursue career-changing research in Chile. And then there was the invitation from then-Dean of Architecture Harvey Perloff to come to UCLA and start the Urban Planning program.

In that instance, many of those in attendance felt like they were actually the lucky ones. Lucy Blackmar, assistant vice provost for undergraduate education initiatives at UCLA, recalled a phone conversation with Friedmann back when UCLA Urban Planning was in its infancy and Friedmann gave her the green light to pursue further education.

“I credit John Friedmann with my intellectual awakening,” Blackmar said. “Really, John was an educator, he was a thought leader, he was a global citizen, a man for all seasons and he had an insatiable intellectual appetite.”

Several other former students shared their memories of Friedmann during the memorial, including Goetz Wolff and Stephen Commins, both of whom later became Luskin urban planning lecturers. UCLA Luskin professors Ananya Roy and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris also spoke about Friedmann, saying he had provided inspiration to them long before they actually had a chance to meet him in person.

Cellist Anne Suda played throughout a reception that preceded the sharing of memories, an homage to Friedmann’s own appreciation of the instrument.

***

To honor the legacy of John Friedmann’s contributions to the field of planning we have established the John Friedmann Memorial Fellowship Fund. Recipients of the fellowship at UCLA Luskin will carry Friedmann’s legacy as leaders and change agents in our world today. If you would like to make a gift, please go here.

A Summer Spent Tackling Global Challenges International Practice Pathway blogs provide a look at life abroad for UCLA Luskin’s Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning students

By Stan Paul

From the sun-bleached poor neighborhoods on the edge of Bengaluru, India, to the traffic-choked streets of Mexico City, students from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs have been tackling global urban challenges this summer as they participate in a unique fellowship program.

Through the International Practice Pathway (IPP) fellowships sponsored by the Luskin School’s Global Public Affairs Program and the UCLA Urban Humanities Initiative, master’s students from all three of Luskin’s departments (Public Policy, Social Welfare, and Urban Planning) received placements with recognized international organizations.

“These are not ‘trips.’ They are professional-level placements in low- and middle-income countries that provide students with a hands-on experience in different areas of global public affairs,” said Stephen Commins, associate director of Global Public Affairs at Luskin. Commins, also a lecturer in Regional and International Development in the School’s Department of Urban Planning, said that students can link their required second-year research and policy projects (requirements for their respective master’s programs at Luskin) with these placements.

IPP, an integral part of the Global Public Affairs Initiative at Luskin, is a global gateway for students from all three Luskin departments to work with local and international communities negatively affected by various political, economic and environmental processes within the context of international development.

As part of the program, all Luskin IPP fellows have been blogging about their experiences this summer on the Global Public Affairs website.

Gus Wendel’s IPP placement took him to Mexico City. For the Urban and Regional Studies master’s (MURP) student, the joy on a child’s face in the simple act of play says it all — even from behind the mask of a luchador, a Mexican wrestler.

But in Mexico City, one of the world’s most populous urban centers, the streets are choked with cars and relentless traffic. It’s no place for children to play freely without worry and constant danger.

That may be changing, if only two hours at a time. But it is a start for Wendel who is focusing on creating safe, temporary play spaces for children to run, jump rope or enjoy crafts and other activities. Wendel worked on a project called Peatoniños, developed in collaboration with the Urban Humanities Initiative and Laboratorio Para La Ciudad.

Peatoniños is a project that aims to liberate and recuperate the streets of Mexico City so that kids can use them to participate in activities such as playing freely, conversing with neighbors, learning new things, imagining different worlds, or making new friends,” Wendel said in an interview. The name of the project is a combination of the words peatón (pedestrian) and niños (children).

He said the collaboration began after a visit to UCLA by Laboratorio founder and director Gabriella Gómez-Mont, who took part in a conversation on issues of youth mobility, mortality and playfulness in Mexico City. The conversation focused on changing public consciousness through changes in public narrative.

Part of that narrative, Wendel explained, includes the following statistics: In Mexico City, 56 percent of the population is under 26 and the number one preventable cause of death for youth is pedestrian-automobile accidents.

“This stark condition implicates a range of current practices surrounding cars, traffic, pedestrian mobility, youth mobility, multi-modal access to the street,” he said.

While it is still early to draw conclusions from the experience, “it is hard not to see the ways that Los Angeles can learn from Mexico City’s example — specifically the relationship between community members and local government,” Wendel said.

“But each play street intervention is only successful as far as local community members are willing to get involved,” he added. For example, those who informally operate public parking, known as “viene vienes,” voluntarily helped to close down streets to traffic for two hours during the first intervention, making it possible to ensure kids are playing in a safe place.

Wendel said that establishing trust between community stakeholders and government and planning for a certain degree of uncertainty seem to be critical elements to ensuring that these types of interventions work.

“Cars and the culture that supports them are relentless, both here and in L.A., so establishing different tactics for slowing traffic and shutting down streets in a civil manner is crucial,” he said.

* * *

Upon landing in Zambia in southern Africa, Corina Post, a master of social welfare (MSW) student at Luskin, said her first impression was that everything seemed “normal” and similar to Los Angeles. “The streets are paved; traffic laws are abided,” she blogged.

But Post, who was placed with World Vision, said she soon noticed small differences. “I felt not too far from home initially, until subtleties reminded me of the privileges the western world holds,” Post said.

As an example, she recounted an early experience from her time in Zambia. During her ride from the airport, she noticed an advertisement for a bank sweepstakes with an unusual prize: 1,000 bags of concrete. She said that “knowing concrete is its own commodity” was one of the first reminders that she “was no longer in Kansas; I was in Africa.”

Other small differences included her interactions with the people in her host country. “People seem to be quite kind to me — honestly, kinder than I have ever been received abroad.” For example, when Post said she went to an exercise class the teacher offered to drive her home. And when asking for directions she said she was not only given directions but people offered to walk with her, a “change of pace from the ‘time is money’” culture she said is used to in the U.S.

A major takeaway for Post was “the gross disservice we as global citizens practice in the homogenization of whole continents.” But, she continued, “This drives me to gain as much exposure as possible to share back home.”

* * *

Master of Public Policy (MPP) student Diego De La Peza traveled to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. There he was paired with the Instituto de Sexualidad Humana, a sexual and family health clinic at the Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo, which focuses on educating the Dominican population on sexual abuse and health issues.

“My project has been conducting quantitative research on victims of sexual abuse and analyzing patterns of services solicited, common diagnostics, and social behaviors of these patients,” De La Peza wrote in his blog. He said that his goal is to combine his findings with procedures set by the ministry of public health. He explained that the purpose is to make recommendations on how primary health doctors should respond when a sexual abuse victim seeks medical attention.

“Working on this project in a country whose sexual health beliefs are highly influenced by patriarchy and religion has been an eye-opening experience,” he wrote. “I found it unbelievable the difference that being with a male figure has when walking the streets of the city. Through my research, I have also learned about men’s perspective on women sexuality, and I cannot help but think about all the work that needs to be done in order to break down these barriers that are blocking the country from reducing such high levels of sexual violence.”

De La Peza said that this experience has been educational and inspiring.

“My work environment serves a constant reminder that there are people working hard to improve the issues of the country, advocating for policy changes and better government interventions,” he said. When asked if he would do it again, he wrote: “Without even processing the question, I couldn’t help but answer: in a heartbeat.”

To read all of the IPP fellow blogs from around the world please visit http://global.luskin.ucla.edu/blog/

Planning a New Future for Tacubaya UCLA Luskin Urban Planning students use their capstone project to provide guidance to Mexico City as it re-envisions one of its neighborhoods

By George Foulsham

Within the heart of Mexico City sits the bustling neighborhood of Tacubaya, population 5,000. Centuries ago, the area was considered rural, but in the mid-19th century urban growth in Mexico City swallowed Tacubaya and it became one of the poorer neighborhoods in a giant metropolis.

Tacubaya of today is defined by intersecting transportation lines that transformed the once-sleepy neighborhood into a central transit hub for thousands of commuters who swarm the area at various times of the day and night. Crime, poverty, unemployment and informal housing are all painful evidence of a community that has suffered from neglect and a lack of investment. Freeway development and an absence of a cohesive community plan have led to a dearth of public amenities as well.

It’s a town that could use help — the kind of help that urban planners could provide.

To address Tacubaya’s issues, the Secretaría de Desarrollo Urbano y Vivienda (SEDUVI), an agency within the Mexico City government, hired international consulting company CTS EMBARQ to help design a new development tool, El Sistema de Actuacion por Cooperacion (SAC). Translation: a performance system by cooperation. The hope is that EMBARQ’s SAC will help revitalize Tacubaya by providing incentives for developers, thus stimulating new affordable housing development and improving transportation while avoiding pitfalls such as congestion, gentrification and displacement.

Enter the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, specifically master’s students from the Department of Urban Planning. Luskin student David Leipziger worked at the World Resources Institute and established a relationship with several EMBARQ offices. Leipziger asked EMBARQ if there might be an opportunity to work with one of the company’s offices around the world. They suggested Mexico City.

“Mexico City seemed to make the most sense for us because of the proximity, and the students just had a lot of interest in what we could be doing,” said Shafaq Choudry, who graduated in June with her Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning (MURP). “There are a lot of parallels that run between the congestion issues that Mexico City faces and L.A.”

Out of this inquiry came a “really fruitful partnership,” according to Choudry, and a 2015-16 capstone project for 16 Luskin MURP students. EMBARQ and Mexico City officials agreed to work with the Luskin students, who studied Tacubaya in the fall 2015 and winter 2016 quarters and provided a detailed report on recommendations that could help officials design a road map for the future of the neighborhood.

The research initiative was arranged by Leipziger and sponsored by Stephen Commins, a lecturer in Urban Planning and associate director of the Global Public Affairs program at UCLA Luskin.

“The capstone projects provide the students with the opportunity to apply the different analytical and research skills that they have learned in the program to a practical, complex set of problems that are similar to what they face as planners,” Commins said. “A key goal is to have applied knowledge and this is what this project entailed.”

Once the details were finalized, the Luskin students conducted extensive research about the context and history of Tacubaya.

“We then took the steps to identify what areas of expertise that CTS EMBARQ provides, and how we could fill in the gaps,” Choudry said. “It worked out well because we’re a group of 16 and everyone is coming with their own interests. And they want to take ownership — what section am I going to be contributing to? And when it’s your thesis project, you really want it to be a reflection of your own interests and your unique research that you want to put out there into the world.”

So 16 students divided into four groups. The teams broke down their daunting task (most capstone projects require a full academic year, not just two quarters) into four categories: incentivizing inclusive housing development; integrating informal housing (any form of shelter outside of government regulation); enhancing mobility and access; and revitalizing public space.

All capstone projects can be challenging, especially when the focus of the research is several thousand miles away, Commins said. “There is a struggle to get focus early as well as the challenge of working remotely,” he said. “As the work progresses, there is a tension between wanting to be thorough and having limited time.”

Choudry said the students very quickly realized that the project would offer important educational and life lessons.

“As the project started to progress, we had to make sure that whatever we were researching and recommending in our findings, that they complemented one another,” Choudry said. “Then, at the end, we’re not producing four separate reports. That was a process in itself. I found it fascinating.”

Another challenge: Only four of the 16 students could fluently speak and read Spanish. “Google translate is a very good tool,” Choudry said.

The students traveled to Tacubaya in shifts, one group going in early December and the others during the second week of January.

“It was intense,” Choudry said. “That was our only opportunity to see the site, start documenting it, talking to as many people as we could.”

The students arranged interviews and established workday schedules with EMBARQ. “At the end of all of this,” Choudry said, “we had to determine what deliverables we would be able to bring to them in the next 10 weeks. It put the pressure on all of us.”

After two visits, countless meetings and hundreds of hours of research, the UCLA Luskin students produced an executive summary and a set of recommendations designed to inform and assist CTS EMBARQ and Mexico City officials with the task of improving life in Tacubaya.

Among the students’ recommendations:

  • Creating a more participatory process that includes Tacubaya residents in housing development decisions.
  • Establishing cooperative methods of ownership in informal housing developments to prevent future displacement.
  • Investing in bicycle paths and traffic-calming measures to help ease congestion caused by heavy traffic surrounding the transit hub.
  • Developing public spaces that fit the community’s needs and desires while designing a future that embraces environmental sustainability.
  • Creating a tiered public benefit zoning system to provide an incentive for development.

The students’ final recommendations have been submitted to CTS EMBARQ. “They were very pleased with the report,” Choudry said. “Our hope was that this could help inform their work, moving forward. That’s how we thought the implementation of this report could be seen. What we’ve done is handed it all off to EMBARQ, with the trust that they may carry it forward to the officials in Mexico City.

“As students, we get to play this role of, this is our client, but we have this opportunity for them to hear a voice that they might not be able to incorporate as easily, given the relationship they have with the city,” she added. “What we realized as a class was that we can push the bar further. And whether or not EMBARQ incorporates this into their final recommendations, at least we gave them some food for thought.”

Commins said the Tacubaya Capstone project is a great example of how students can fulfill the UCLA Luskin mission.

“Their presentation was indeed representative of the commitment of our students to engage in real-world questions, to dig into the complexities of urban planning in Mexico City, and to propose specific approaches that are both attuned to the needs of a diverse population and grounded in the specific political/regulatory/environmental context of Tacubaya,” Commins said.

Read the students’ full report.

Stephen Commins

Stephen Commins works in areas of regional and international development, with an emphasis on service delivery and governance in fragile states. Commins was Director of the Development Institute at the UCLA African Studies Center in the 1980s, and then worked as Director of Policy and Planning at World Vision International in the 1990s.

Dr. Commins was Senior Human Development Specialist at the World Bank from 1999-2005. His work at the World Bank included “Managing Dimensions of Economic Crisis: Good Practices for Policies and Institutions,” the establishment of the Bank’s children and youth cluster, and a survey of service delivery programs implemented by civil society organizations. Commins was one of the co-authors of the World Bank’s World Development Report 2004, Making Services Work for Poor People.  Following the report’s publication in 2003, he managed several initiatives on service delivery in post-conflict countries and the relationships between political reform and improved services.

Over the last decade, he has continued to work on service delivery programs, including the major study, “Service Delivery in Fragile States: Good Practice for Donors,” for the Fragile States Group of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2006.  Some of his fragility and disaster work has included “testing the DFID state building” framework in Lao PDR and Cambodia, managing studies on disasters and safety nets for the World Bank in Bangladesh, a co-authored paper on participation, accountability and decentralization in Africa, and producing studies on health systems strengthening in fragile states for World Vision Canada and on sub-national fragility in India and Pakistan for the HLSP Institute.   He also led a team of policy researchers for the UK government, who produced a policy note and guidance resource for designing Multi-Donor Trust Funds or “Pooled Funds” in fragile states.

He has worked for five years in support of a long-term study of livelihoods and post-conflict reconstruction in Pakistan, as part of a seven-country project with the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad and the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium at ODI in the UK..  For academic years 2013-15, he worked as the consultation and dissemination coordinator for the World Bank’s World Development Report 2015 (Behavior, Mind and Society). His other projects at that time included a four-country study with the Overseas Development Institute on community-driven development and livelihoods in four South Asian countries, support for World Development Report 2017 (Governance and the Law), and a project on designing long-term urban programs for urban areas affected by the Syrian refugee diaspora (Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey).

His recent work has included designing two workshops, one on urban water and displaced populations and another on municipalities and livelihoods for city officials from Middle Eastern countries impacted by the Syrian diaspora. He also has been involved with the World Development Report 2018 (Education: The Learning Crisis), an assessment of education systems and needs in South Sudan, a study on providing digital skills for young women in low-income countries, and the second phase of the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium.

At UCLA, Dr. Commins teaches courses in regional and international development. His current courses are on urbanization in developing countries, climate change, water and health, and disaster management. He is the Associate Director for Global Public Affairs at the Luskin School.

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What is ‘Post” About “Post-Conflict’?

nepal-1

By Steve Commins, Associate Director of GPA@UCLA Luskin, and Urban Planning Lecturer

Nepal is a country that is currently labeled ‘post-conflict’. But after two civil wars, one driven by an armed insurgency which later allied with a non-violent democratic movement, and the second spurred on by ethnic tensions in communities bordering India, the Nepalese still struggle with the daily tasks of building a new political system. The label ‘post-conflict’ is a designation that belies the complexities of the country’s status and what is required for a long term, peaceful, political settlement.

Nepal currently faces both deeply rooted forms of poverty and economic exclusion. India, which borders the country, has had a major hand in its economic options, and the country receives a significant amount of international ‘aid.’

Nepal occupies a particular niche in the “aid business”, as it is not a ‘strategic’ conflict like Afghanistan, it is not an aid orphan like the Central African Republic nor is it an aid darling like South Sudan recently. As a result, Nepal exists within the broad sweep of countries that have been labeled ‘post-conflict’ by the United Nations and other agencies, and, in the current jargon, a ‘Fragile and Conflict Affected State’.

In the late 1990s, chastened by the failure of the UN and major political powers to effectively address the human catastrophes of the civil wars in Somalia, Rwanda and Bosnia, as well as the limits of ‘democratization’ and ‘good governance’, a number of international agencies began to give more serious attention to what eventually became labeled ‘Fragile and Conflict Affected States’.

The premise of this approach is that there are complex, historic reasons why states have different forms of violent political conflict and political fragmentation, and there are also situations where states may experience the decay of public institutions even without overt violent conflict. This means that the UN and donor agencies have to address the underlying causes of ‘fragility’ rather than just provide humanitarian (neutral) aid – or as one observer put it, a ‘humanitarian fig leaf’.

Much literature has been devoted to debating ‘fragile’, ‘failed’ and ‘failing states’.  Frequently it misses the mark by not delving into the historic specifics of a country or region, or descending into superficial explanations like ‘these communities never got along’ or the government was doomed from the start’ – explanations that lack depth or insight into the nuances of the specific reasons and dynamics of fragility.

At the same time, the role of international agencies, which sometimes (but not always, hence the term ‘aid orphans’) provide large amounts of finance for both short-term ‘humanitarian’ assistance and longer-term ‘post-conflict’ reconstruction, poses another challenge. The problem with this approach is that donor agencies are making decisions on what to label a specific situation rather than the messy realities of politics (again, sadly, South Sudan’s collapsed political settlement comes to mind). Donor time frames and real politics rarely cohere.

As part of a four-country study on the impact of Community Driven Development projects on livelihoods in FCAS (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal), I worked with the lead Nepalese researcher on the initial interviews and inception for the country study.

Landing in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu provides no haunting images of war or political turmoil. On appearance the country is back in business. Indeed, fortunately for the country, the Maoists involved in the first civil war did not engage in the level of violence or social destruction found in some other countries (up to 20,000 people died, so ‘level’ is a sadly relative term). The Maoists currently function as a political party similar to the FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) in El Salvador or FRELIMO (Mozambique Liberation Front), which moved into the political process after the peace agreements in their countries.

But talk for any amount of time with Nepalese and a complex picture of hopes and aspirations as well as uncertainties about a very nascent political system emerges. The politics of geography, as it were (Mountains, Hills, Terai), the debates about federalism (too much or too little depending on the individual) and the problematic aspects of nation state building and agreeing on the ‘imagined community’ that remain unresolved.

In the end, whatever label is applied by international donors, Nepal remains a country that has an evolving, contentious and sometimes fraught political process. Perhaps the label should be changed to ‘post-violent conflict’ (though different forms of violence frequently morph into criminality after the overt political violence has been reduced) as in reality all effective political settlements do not end conflict, rather they provide mechanisms that at best may achieve general acceptance for ways of addressing inevitable disagreements in non-violent, democratic and equitable ways.

This can only be seen from the ground up, as each violent conflict or manifestation of state fragility has its own history, meaning and narratives.

‘Post’ is a label of hopefulness about a better future, a short-hand for donors to change how they give aid, and, perhaps, a step towards a political settlement that works better for more people than the previous one.

Original post at http://global.luskin.ucla.edu/