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Getting the politics right : understanding the political economy of rural and urban WASH in South Asia

Politicians are often ignored by development practitioners responsible for planning and implementing donor-assisted WASH projects in developing countries, who view them as corrupt, capricious, self-serving, uninformed and moved by short-term electoral gains. They focus their attention, instead, on receptive bureaucrats who appear to be the antithesis of politicians: suave, educated, perceptive, receptive and anglicised.

Politicians, however, shape the destinies of countries in more ways than we know, largely because development sector professionals – especially foreigners – are unaware of the influence they actually have on a country’s development. Many professionals feel they know what’s best for the country and they only need funding and formal permission to implement their ideas. They do not realise these may not only be inappropriate recommendations in the country’s context, but that bureaucrats and politicians may have real solutions and are more entitled to feeling responsible for the welfare of their own country.

Given this scenario, it is useful for us development sector practitioners to understand why people do what they do (especially politicians and those who vote for them) and how to provide them the right incentives so they do what we want them to do, such as support WASH policies, behaviour change programmes and investment in WASH systems. While Political Economy Analysis (PEA) systematically studies these compulsions, it is often done separately and not with the intention of directly influencing intervention and activity planning. This paper, prepared for the All systems go! WASH Systems Symposium, shows, with real-life examples, how PEA can be used in practical ways in WASH system planning and promotion. [author abstract]

TitleGetting the politics right : understanding the political economy of rural and urban WASH in South Asia
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsJames, A. J.
Secondary TitleAll systems go! WASH Systems Symposium, The Hague, the Netherlands, 12-14 March 2019
Pagination10 p. : 1 tab.
Date Published02/2019
PublisherIRC
Place PublishedThe Hague, the Netherlands
Publication LanguageEnglish
Keywordsbureaucrats, political economy analysis, politicians
Abstract

Politicians are often ignored by development practitioners responsible for planning and implementing donor-assisted WASH projects in developing countries, who view them as corrupt, capricious, self-serving, uninformed and moved by short-term electoral gains. They focus their attention, instead, on receptive bureaucrats who appear to be the antithesis of politicians: suave, educated, perceptive, receptive and anglicised.

Politicians, however, shape the destinies of countries in more ways than we know, largely because development sector professionals – especially foreigners – are unaware of the influence they actually have on a country’s development. Many professionals feel they know what’s best for the country and they only need funding and formal permission to implement their ideas. They do not realise these may not only be inappropriate recommendations in the country’s context, but that bureaucrats and politicians may have real solutions and are more entitled to feeling responsible for the welfare of their own country.

Given this scenario, it is useful for us development sector practitioners to understand why people do what they do (especially politicians and those who vote for them) and how to provide them the right incentives so they do what we want them to do, such as support WASH policies, behaviour change programmes and investment in WASH systems. While Political Economy Analysis (PEA) systematically studies these compulsions, it is often done separately and not with the intention of directly influencing intervention and activity planning. This paper, prepared for the All systems go! WASH Systems Symposium, shows, with real-life examples, how PEA can be used in practical ways in WASH system planning and promotion. [author abstract]

Notes

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