While urban areas have performed poorly in most of the social indicators, rural areas have lagged further behind the urban areas. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), only seven of them, left us way down the league tables. Before we could learn any lessons, as many as seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been pushing the limits of the weakening government capacity to execute even the simplest of policy initiatives. Like the MDGs, the donors have supplemented, even supplanted, the government’s efforts by setting up SDG units at federal and provincial levels. Their task, in the donor-speak, is to align various government policies and initiatives with the SDGs. The outcome is a plethora of glossy documents claiming alignment without roadmaps, resourcing and, as in the past, mechanism of rural outreach. In the federal PSDP, there is a Rs22 billion SDGs Supplementary Fund. It is an open secret that the purpose is to dole out political patronage.
All is not lost, though. Where there is a will, there is a way. Just visit Bhale Dino Sathio, Lakht, Sheikh Bhirkio and Sheikh Fareed union councils of Taluka Tando Muhammad Khanin in Sindh, and you will know what an eye-opener means. Beyond the dusty and dirty towns lie villages that are cleaner, healthier and more educated, especially girls. Communities, mobilised by the National Rural Support Programme (NRSP), have taken charge of their own lives. A three-tier mobilisation into Community Organisations, Village Organisations and Local Support Organisations (LSO) is doing wonders. Their focus is on SDG 3, 4 & 6. They call it WISE — Water, Immunisation, Sanitation, Education. The approach cuts across the sectoral silos to maximise multisectoral outcomes to reduce multidimensional poverty. Quality of life begins with and is sustained by safe drinking water. Water, sanitation and hygiene are a significant component of the total burden of disease. In the villages, there is no system of public water supply. The great step forward has been a shift from ponds and canals to handpumps. Even here, water quality varies. Communities have worked with local authorities to test the water quality. Handpumps with safe drinking water have been painted green and others red. In the LSO Bhale Dino SathioIn area, 70% of the households are now drinking safe drinking water. 83% of the households are dumping waste at the designated places and 56% of the households have constructed latrines. Similarly, the LSO Lakht reports 100% polio vaccination, immunisation of 88% of children aged 0-23 months and 79% of women aged 15-45 years got TT vaccination. Most outstanding, Sheikh Bhirkio’s LSO records 82% of the children aged 4-12 years enrolled in schools. The LSO Sheikh Fareed is gearing up for 100% access to safe drinking water, fully clean villages, 100% immunisation of children and mothers, and no child out of school. You can see woman and children joyfully waving their Corona certifications, vaccination registrations and CNICs. Girls and boys are attending co-ed school. All women are aware of the need to plan families and the majority are practicing it.
It took three to tango. The much-maligned government departments with no extra budget entered into MOUs with LSOs and a district head enjoying continuity. All three meet regularly as Joint Development Committee to monitor progress. A WHO evaluation declared WISE successful and recommended replication in other districts. WISE is an indigenous initiative which donors joined in areas of immunisation and sanitation. This is only one aspect of sustainability. The other issue is the sustainability of LSOs, VOs and Cos. This social capital does not appear out of thin air. Is Riasat-e-Madina listening?
Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2021.