By: Naveed Hussain
It was a sunny day of the fully bloomed autumn but the weather was as scorching hot as that of the mid-June. I was on a field visit in the southern areas of Khyber Pukhtukhwa (KP). We were crossing small hamlets in the adjoining areas of Dera Ismail Khan in a car. We found a shop on the way, bought a few water bottles and I suggested my colleague that we should carry more water bottles along in order to stay hydrated. She told me that she doesn’t carry water bottles of nestle or similar companies when she goes to meet with the community members. I was surprised to hear this, deeming the extreme hot weather and importance of drinking enough clean water. I couldn’t resist myself from asking the reason for not opting to drink plenty of water. She narrated a brief but thought-provoking story in the following lines.
“A few months ago, I visited a village of KP bordering with Baluchistan. Some women and community leaders had held a meeting to share different issues of the area with the development sector workers. It was a scorching hot day of June. In order to hydrate myself, I took out a bottle (nestle) from my bag and drank water. A kid sitting in his mother’s lap saw me drinking water. I was noting down the points shared by the community elders, therefore, I couldn’t interact with him. He then started asking something from his mother repeatedly but she advised him to keep silence. The meeting ended and I asked the lady what her child was asking. She hesitated to say but on my request she told me that he was asking why were you drinking clear water (safaid paani)? She added that their children have never seen these water bottles as they drink water from the ponds where there is either rainwater or river water which is not clean but dirty (safaid nahein gadla paani). This made me speechless and I gave the kid another bottle from my bag. Since then, I have not been carrying these water bottles along. Either I do not drink water on field visits or drink the same water provided by the community.”
This story made me speechless too and then silence prevailed in the car over a distance of more than a 100 km. My mind visualized the situation of utter negligence and vicious poverty which I have been witnessing in Baluchistan, Sindh, KP, Punjab, GB and AJK. We reached in a rural area where the community members received us with overwhelming respect. They presented the local food and gifts. Their faces were glowing with a hope that we may approve a project for their area or come up with any solution to eradicate the prolonged issues of the area specifically health, education and clean drinking water etc. We did an assessment of the area’s issues and moved back thanking them for sparing time and the respect they showered upon us.
This happened some two years ago but recently I came across a book with a catchy title “Transforming villages written by Javed Ahmed Malik”, opened it and read the introduction which took me back to the above mentioned story where the child had asked why the water in the nestle bottle was clear and clean. ( Wo Paani Safaid/saaf Kyu’n tha?)
Transforming Villages is a must read book for the development practitioners, policy makers, bureaucrats and the students of development sciences who are involved in the programs of social safety, poverty alleviation and rural development etc. The author argues the need of village level institutions having a legal status and close connection with the state institutions. For this, he emphasizes on the need of grassroots democracy for ending rural poverty rapidly.
He has authored “transforming villages” by developing a simpler research framework comprising of the four components including i) understanding the problems of neglected villages ii) the consequences of the problem iii) towards a home grown ground up model and iv) finding a solution and for this he has collected information against the questions like why to talk about villages? Why the existing state structure has failed to deliver? How human rights are being violated due to absence of village level organizations? And how the state structure can be accountable through citizen’s involvement etc.
Javed Malik’s argument sounds logical when we take into account the services rendered by the rural support programs (RSPs) in the form Local Support Organizations (LSOs) under the umbrella of RSPN and civil society networks or organizations (CSOs) present in different areas of the country. The presence of LSOs and CSOs in the nook and corner of the country is a great step forward but they are not self-sufficient and their major reliance is on the donor funding. These LSOs and CSOs often encounter financial crisis and therefore, the village level intervention by the state is the need of the hour.
“The writer is a researcher and a development sector professional. He tweets at @NaveedHGul.”