Sustainable security

The sustainable security of states can only be based on the security of people: their physical safety; their socio-economic well-being; respect for their dignity and political and cultural identity as individuals and as members of communities; gender equality; and the protection and promotion of all human rights – including women’s rights – and fundamental freedoms in the home, in the community, in their country and in the wider world.

Agents for Change: Civil Society Roles in Preventing War & Building Peace, Catherine Barnes, European Centre for Conflict Prevention

On communicating development

We recently concluded a program orientation for our local implementation partners, key officers of parent and youth associations in the villages. These are ordinary folks, in that orientation, vegetable farmers and labourers who were trained and developed through the years in project implementation.

The challenge in these venues is for I/NGO officers and staff to digest highly-technical and conceptual topics in development. However because of limited presentation or speaking time coupled with the pressure to connect with the audience I/NGO people without meaning to oversimplify thus integrity of conceptual meanings is lost or gets watered down. For example: This year’s plan was designed using the Theory of Change as the analysis and planning framework. How is TOC explained to this audience? Usually this way: It (theory of change) is the same concept as before (the logical framework). It is not. It is a road map toward the goals we have set out to achieve. Well, road map could be a synonym but what exactly is this road map? It is a set of guideposts. Maybe not.

Further into the programme, in a plenary after the presentation on participation, an officer from a parent association shared that many supported families who have stopped or were reluctant to participate in community activities tell him, what’s the use in us taking part when we don’t receive direct assistance anymore? That started off a heated discussion.

The situation, from an M&E perspective, indicates a deeper and unresolved issue which is that transitions in development at the community level have not been managed well.

For any one person, organization, or community, transitions are the most difficult phase to traverse and unless managed well those undergoing one could get stuck in them despite moving on physically to the new.  Also because being stuck is something like a back subject to both – the I/NGO and communities it supports – the conversation on this could get difficult. It is the responsibility of change makers to walk families and communities through the change. This necessitates a plan to manage these periods and to involve communities in the process.

An activity of such a plan could be a re-training, orientation, or planning session with locals.

How does one discuss the Theory of Change to individuals who have not even completed elementary education?  There may be other means besides PowerPoint slides, thus like the good teacher preparing lesson plans, I/NGO officers and staff need to set aside time to know, once more, the profile of their audience in order to draw up the appropriate activity design, to study the topics assigned to them, plan how each segues to the other, and prepare for the delivery mode (i.e. language, learning materials) appropriate to their audience because as with the learning taking place between teacher and students a community’s understanding of development concepts and the ensuing community plan which is the product of such an understanding reflects the quality of input given or received.

Visuals and allegories as aids in bringing the message across should not be underestimated, as for instance the visual below to explain family planning in corn-growing communities:

Design and development of learning materials for communities is being taken for granted.  We think that speaking for hours on end with just PowerPoint slides, the usual mode of delivery, instantly translates into knowledge gained on the part of listeners, but borrowing the theory of multiple intelligences there is greater chance of learning taking place when all the senses are engaged.  I, for one, fall under the visual-spatial and bodily-kinesthetic categories of M.I. meaning I learn more quickly through imagery and hands-on learning.  On one hand, I dread workshops (although this is the norm in my line of work) because to me they’re artificial and participants are forced to interact with almost-strangers at a relatively deep level and expected to produce quality outputs in a relatively short time and so instead of these serving as venues of learning I get stressed out.  There is therefore more to communicating development than just going in front and speaking.

Building youth agency

During a break, a colleague and I fell into discussing key findings of a commissioned baseline study we were reviewing, particularly that on young locals’ very low score in confidently expressing their thoughts whether in school, at home, or in their villages.  There is an indicator that appears to refer solely to the target of intervention (young people) but in fact embraces young people’s physical, economic, social, political, and cultural environments, and ultimately, the resulting product from the interaction of these with any young person’s make up (personality, physical and physiological attributes), a wicked problem therefore.

This brings up the concern within the monitoring and evaluation community for causality and attribution, seeing that accountability for taming wicked problems does not solely rest on one agency or group or nation for that matter.   Thus the imperative to work with others, allocate tasks and resources, and measure and report on individual responsibility vis-a-vis achievement, in effect build community ownership for the constitutional interest on Filipino youth and their role in nation building.

I’d like to add government’s leadership role in this, which is to provide a clear, consistent, and unifying policy for building youth agency, de-politicize public youth programs (how are young people expected to be nation builders if politicians tell young people to shut down their brains and merely parrot what they say?), and to consolidate and make available to the public coherent data and information that show national and local progress of the undertaking.  Who should these government agencies be?  I’m thinking, apart from the LGUs, the National Economic and Development Authority and the National Youth Commission.



Resolving post-disaster displacement crises: Insights from the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan

Panel discussion on efforts to resolve post-disaster displacement crises, focusing on experiences in the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.  Results of a new study that draws on a major household survey and extensive interviews with community members, government officials, and other key stakeholders to examine the question of durable solutions for internally displaced persons uprooted by Typhoon Haiyan will be shared.


Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Speakers:  Brookings Nonresident Fellow Megan Bradley and Bradley Mellicker of IOM; Luca Dall’Oglio, chief of mission for IOM in Washington, DC, and James Fleming of USAID.


24 June 2015
2:00 – 3:30 PM EDT


Brookings Institution
Falk Auditorium
1775 Massachusetts Avenue NW

Download report and more event information at

The Places in Between

I first posted the article below in 2011 and am reposting it now in light of fresh attacks in the country and the impending transition of national security back into the hands of Afghans.

The conflict in these places – Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Africa – is similar to what Philippines is experiencing in the sense that the layers to it are familiar: government vs. rebel forces (that are also divided into factions that oppose each other); rebel forces vs. the collective enemy which is supposedly the West led by the US; opportunists; and, borrowing Stewart’s term, in “the places in between” are the people who care nothing for war and just want to live life in peace and eventual prosperity.  It is the masses of people who bear the social, political, and psychological costs of internal strife.

The democratic ideal extols that power resides in the people but as it is the people are crippled with doubt as to the truth in that. Public money is prioritized for counter-insurgency, also necessary, but leaves huge gaps in the development of communities.  A truce must be declared if only for these people.

In this, there emerges the pivotal role of civil society to introduce change as it’s not expected, within the short to midterm at least, that governments and the rebel forces would suddenly lay down their weapons and differences in perspectives and hug each other.  But then even civil society, particularly the international community of aid and development organizations with their vast resources and capacity to move these about around the globe relatively quickly are also conflicted among themselves as to how to facilitate peace and development together (and that despite the enormity of aid poured in, development has been insignificant on the whole).  The military’s expertise is primarily not geared to that kind of service provision.  And to be fair, many in the governments in conflict areas are trying to contain the devil in their midst that seems to be transforming everyday if not by the minute.  Who then?  It is civil society.  But first it also needs to establish harmony of purpose and resources among it’s members.


The book is an autobiography of the author’s, Rory Stewart‘s, four-month journey made on foot through the central mountains of Afghanistan, specifically the route from Herat to Kabul.

The walk through Afghanistan was made at the start of 2002, immediately after the fall of the Taliban.  The new government had been in place only two weeks.  The US and British operations were still widely active.

Sixteen months before, Stewart had made a similar crossing in Iran, Pakistan, India, and Nepal.  In Afghanistan, he  intended to retrace the footsteps of Babur who after conquering Kabul traversed the same route at the start of 1500 around the same month that he did in order to conquer Delhi where he found the Mughal Dynasty.

I was particularly awed by the author’s account of the wilderness landscape of that route which according to him is rarely traversed.  It was where Genghis Khan and afterward Alexander the Great had entered to make their conquests.  It is where the Silk and Spices Roads meet.

The names of the towns and villages – Ghor, Khandahar, Yakawlang, Sang-i-zard – sounded old and mysterious, like those places in Lord of the Rings. The author’s description conjured up the grandeur of the country’s empires that are now only obscurely remembered by monuments that have withstood nature, such as the Minaret of Jam which directs visitors toward the lost City of Turquoise Mountain underneath it.  To add to the mystery, blood of the citizens of Ghazni, the City’s arch-enemy, were purportedly mixed in with the bricks that made up the Minaret’s column.

But also in this historical and diverse region, the author had observed “differences between groups” that are “deep, elusive, and difficult to overcome” which he doubts policy makers, that is, those in the embassies, think tanks, and international development agencies including the UN, understood.

But what did they understand of the thought processes of Seyyed Kerbalahi’s wife, who had not moved five kilometers from her home in forty years? Or Dr. Habibullah the vet who carried an automatic weapon in the way they (policy makers) carried briefcases? The villagers I had met were mostly illiterate, lived far from electricity or television, and knew very little about the outside world. Versions of Islam; views of ethnicity, government, politics, and the proper methods of dispute resolution (including armed conflict); and the experience of twenty-five years of war differed from region to region… Village democracy, gender issues, and centralization would be hard-to-sell concepts in some areas…

Policy makers did not have the time, structures, or resources for a serious study of an alien culture. They justified their lack of knowledge and experience by focusing on poverty and implying that dramatic cultural differences did not exist. They acted as though villagers were interested in all the priorities of international organizations, even when those priorities were mutually contradictory.

In a seminar in Kabul, I heard Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, say, “Afghans have been fighting for their human rights for twenty-five years. We don’t need to tell them what their rights are.” Then the head of a major food agency added privately, “Villagers are not interested in human rights. They are like poor people all over the world. All they think about is where their next meal is coming from.” To which the head of an Afghan NGO providing counseling responded, “The only thing to know about these people is that they are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The differences between the policy makers and a Hazara such as Ali went much deeper than his lack of food. Ali rarely worried about his next meal. He was a peasant farmer and had a better idea than most about where his next meal was coming from. If he defined himself it was chiefly as a Muslim and a Hazara, not as a hungry Afghan. Without the time, imagination, and persistence needed to understand Afghans’ diverse experiences, policy makers would find it impossible to change Afghan society in the way they wished to change it.

Post-conflict experts’…implicit denial of the difference between cultures is the new mass brand of international intervention. Their policy fails but no one notices. There are no credible monitoring bodies and there is no one to take formal responsibility… neocolonialists have no…performance criteria. In fact their very uselessness benefits them. By avoiding any serious action or judgment, they…are able to escape accusations of racism, exploitation and oppression. Perhaps it is because no one requires more than a charming illusion of action in the developing world. If the policy makers know little about the Afghans, the public knows even less, and few care about policy failure when the effects are felt only in Afghanistan.

I think I understand what the author implies. One summer long ago a friend and I decided to explore what the so-called life of the common tao (the masses) was.  We were two years out of college and such things we didn’t quite have a full picture of yet.  We got on the back door route, beginning in Manila onward to Bicol and from there to the CARAGA Region.  In the areas, I discovered from among my fellow Filipinos what Stewart had observed of Afghans in his route: “differences between groups” that are “deep, elusive, and difficult to overcome.  I understood then the difficulty in the challenge placed on my country’s leaders, which is to unify Filipinos and still leave space for the celebration of diversity.

In the end, for Stewart, the experience is one of personal transformation and was grateful that

never in my twenty-one months of travel did they attempt to kidnap or kill me. I was alone and a stranger, walking in very remote areas; I represented a culture that many of them hated… In more than five hundred village houses, I was indulged, fed, nursed, and protected by people poorer, hungrier, sicker, and more vulnerable than me. Almost every group I met – Sunni Kurds, Shia Hazara, Punjabi Christians, Sikhs, Brahmins of Kedarnath, Garhwal Dalits, and Newari Buddhists – gave me hospitality without any thought of reward.

Rebuilding a city: The dos and don’ts in post-disaster urban recovery

Before Haiyan, there were disasters on the same scale such as the Aceh Tsunami, Katrina Hurricane, and Haiti Earthquake.  Management of post-disaster rebuilding in these countries present critical lessons to everyone concerned.  The resource speakers in this video of a 2011 event hosted by the Brookings Institute share critical lessons relevant in the post-Haiyan situation.   Brookings has made the transcript of this event available on its site, here.

Nonetheless I noted down some points made by

Maggie Stephenson, UNHABITAT Senior Technical Advisor, that mirror the very challenges post-Haiyan (and in the other post-disaster areas in Mindanao).

At 21:44, on emergency camps post-Haiti

This is not a camp that’s going to be emptied… this is not a reversible process of emptying camps this is also gonna be a process of developing settlements or making strategic and early decisions of which areas need to be stopped and relocated now.  All of these require technical knowledge of understanding cities and working together with policymakers (as well as with) the combined agencies.

This is what the camps also are they are the beginnings of new settlements. (25:14)

At 25:44, on Canaan post-disaster

…what’s mostly being reported is the formal inputs, the work of agencies.  What isn’t being reported is what are people doing themselves… People have moved in, purchased land themselves , have started to build themselves.  Are we going to choose to retrofit services and support the process — this is a question for us to also think about, (is this the) most wise use of our resources, to follow where people are already going and make the outcome better?

At 27:07, on the situation in Port-au-Prince CBD post-disaster

This is a huge opportunity to invest in already serviced land and accessible land but this is complicated.  This needs urban expertise, this needs political will…this is partly the solution to the expanding of the city.  The solution is not just to retrofit services of the ever growing mountains it’s also to regenerate the center of the city.  This needs substantial investors and coherent planning.

At 28:42, on housing

Money isn’t available for permanent housing so we really need to take care of commitments, promises, and the amount of money spent in temporary construction, but not only an issue of resources it’s also an issue of land.  Can we afford to use up urban land for temporary shelter? How are you supposed to build (a) permanent house if you used it up with this?

I think temporary housing is an important choice but it needs to be offered as a choice. (30:04)

What everyone asked for was not investment in temporary shelter it was investment in protection from the floods so they don’t wash away their next house.  It’s not changing the outcome for the current reconstruction it’s investing for the next 30 years of buildings that we need to be concerned about. (33:03)

At 30: 33, on technical assistance post-disaster

We trained 200,000 masons in Pakistan. I don’t understand why we’ve collectively trained less than 20,000 in Haiti.  One year they’re sitting in camps — there’s a golden opportunity. We need to train every single existing male mason and every mango seller that’s gonna become a mason.  This needs a concerted large scale effort and we need to think at scale, it’s not as expensive as building hospitals, to train masons. It’s the biggest contribution you could make to improve the quality.

We shouldn’t at the end of three years of reconstruction or 10 years of reconstruction have basic flaws of engineering… We need to use the opportunity of massive technical assistance to bring other agenda like energy efficiency, water management, maybe not all at the same time but at least follow through in stages over the course of reconstruction. And the assistance in urban areas needs technical assistance in areas such as planning… Have we got the skills to do that?  Have NGOs built up their teams with skill to do that?  Or are we still heavily in logistics and assistance?  We need to be enablers.  We need to be added value.  We need to be smart.  We need to be conscious about value for money. (33:15)

Government…we have the least resources, the least capacities, and lose staff to the response.  It’s extremely important that all agencies work as support and partners and not displace them or compete with them because they’re gonna be there afterwards, not to mention it’s a question of legitimacy and in the case of Haiti they need a strong government even more than they need reconstruction. Reconstruction needs to be a channel first to see how we build stronger communities, stronger governments, and stronger relations between the two because without that then we’re gonna see a backslide and we need to see progress made.

The role of enablers — technical assistance is a small role it’s not a large amount of money because it’s a small team usually it’s not big logistics of NGOs and agencies but it’s a role that donors are not necessarily happy to fund and this puts all the money at risk.  If you haven’t invested in quality…or you haven’t invested in monitoring and control then what have you got for your money? So my point is invest in the decision making and invest in information for better decisions.

Abhas K. Jha, Lead Urban Specialist and Practice Leader for Disaster Risk Management, The World Bank

At 1:25:28, on infrastructure planning

Large infrastructure planning especially for large scale infrastructure which has large locked in period is very tricky… It calls for an iterative, flexible kind of decision making which is robust across a large number of climate scenarios.  The trick here is to get the balance right…often, policymakers think about concrete on the ground they want sea dikes, dams, and they don’t think about the non infrastructural solutions which are often as effective…much more effective… Given all this what should a city policy maker do? … Cities need to invest in risk data and disseminate it widely in a way that the public can understand easily…

(The rest, listen on.)

Legal Frameworks and Political Space for Non-Governmental Organisations: An Overview of Six Countries

The EADI Policy Paper Series, Legal Frameworks and Political Space for Non-Governmental Organisations: An Overview of Six Countries, is motivated by growing concern over the ability of civil society to fulfil its core functions, especially in the areas of governance and human rights. The past decade has seen diverse trends; new spaces and enabling environments have opened up for civil society in some contexts, but shrunk in other contexts. Civil society actors have increasingly been recognized as significant actors in global processes. For example, the Busan Partnership for Development Effectiveness stresses the need for enabling environments to be created for civil society organisations (CSOs).

At the same time, civil society freedoms have been restricted in a number of countries by new legal initiatives. This tendency has been justified partly by the post-2001 security agenda, and partly by the interests of repressive regimes. The case studies examine Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Honduras, Kyrgyzstan, Serbia and Uganda in order to look deeper into these trends in a variety of societal contexts:

• Bangladesh has a massive, primarily service-oriented NGO sector dominated by mega-NGOs and foreign-funded NGOs. The legal framework is generally weak, and many NGOs suffer from poor governance. Civil society space is constrained by two dominant political parties which are suspicious of NGOs entering the political arena, and there have been some cases of harassment of NGOs working on human rights or governance issues.

• Ethiopia has recently introduced new legislation which restricts foreign funding for NGOs, and in practice has narrowed the space of human rights NGOs. The new legislation has particularly affected international and large NGOs based in the capital; at the sub-national level there is more flexibility for local civil society to operate.

• In Kyrgyzstan the space for civil society has stabilised since the political crisis of 2010. The legal position and rights of NGOs are respected under the new constitution and the post-2010 period has seen the emergence of more locally-embedded CSOs. The main challenges are the capacity of CSOs as external aid declines and distrust within the sector.

• In Honduras, the legal framework is supportive of participation in governance processes. However, civil society is highly polarized and freedom of expression is suppressed.

• For Serbia, EU accession requirements encouraged significant progress in creating a comprehensive legal framework for CSOs. However, human rights CSOs are becoming more vulnerable, including to attack from extremist groups, with the government doing little to protect their freedom. Problems are also resulting from a reduction in foreign funding.

• In Uganda, NGOs are significant in service delivery and reconciliation work. The constitution assures rights for civil society action, but the legal and political environment has become more restrictive in recent years.

Read more at INTRAC.

Risk reduction measures and early warning systems: the challenge of inclusivity

The NDRRMC is commended for its two projects–Project DINA and National Cell Broadcasting System–which will be launched soon according to the Philippine Star. These projects are designed to improve the dissemination of disaster information and warning.

In its future projects, however, NDRRMC could reach out to more by looking at results of studies, usually commissioned by the I/NGO community, on communication pathways that locals utilize relative to early warning and disaster information. I was part of a few of these commissioned studies and results of these point to some interesting facts, one in particular:

Radio is consistently the top source for disaster/emergency information of both adults and children. The medium is followed by word of mouth, that is, through local officials (i.e. the Barangay Captain and Councilors, or the Mayor) and neighbors. Information from these two sources are delivered in the vernacular. (I think it’s in this blog where I wrote about the use of high falluting language of PAGASA weather reports, which is like talking Russian to locals, hence do not serve its purpose in the localities.)

Text or mobile messaging and the Internet are not popular sources for this kind of information. This is partly due to location (i.e. there is no available service in so-called far flung barrios or villages) and of many villages being off the grid (i.e. electricity has not reached these areas yet). But it is these very facts that contribute to these folks’ vulnerability to disasters. Of warning messages from local officials, locals cited inconsistency in content (i.e. the Barangay Captain’s information differs from the Mayor’s or vice-versa). Also, broadband speed is not fast enough as marketed by the telecoms (on your unlucky day accessing the Net can take you hours and you may end up flinging the thing out your window in sheer frustration; or worse, if ever there was a flash flood again you’d have already drowned and died while the thing is still trying to log you onto the Net. I’ve been in areas where you have to get onto a tree branch in order to receive at least one bar of network availability–this means you can send and receive messages but calls are choppy; climb a hill, and perhaps one more bar and maybe improved calling service.). It means that information from the radio and local officials need to be accurate at all times otherwise the consequence may be dire. In fact, one reason why families were caught off guard in the recent disasters in the country is attributed in part to inaccurate information, delayed information, or not having received warning at all.

via seismicwarning

This reiterates the nature of ‘communication’, which is, it is a two-way street. While it is true that the Philippines is a top user of social media, the question is who are the users? What’s their profile? You’d be surprised that even in Metro Manila, not everyone has a 24/7 Internet service or an Internet-capable phone (you’d be even more surprised that there is no electricity supply in certain areas, the slums which ironically are more at risk). If this is the scenario in the mega city, what’s in the provinces, many of which have weak or entirely no Internet and/or mobile phone service yet?

Planning using the lens of inclusivity should change the current imbalance of things. A project costing, say, PHP500M should not cater to or benefit, say, only 500 people. Internet-based platforms may be relevant to urban areas but not to the many off the grid towns and villages. Project planners and designers should therefore look into, among other things, where are the areas more at risk vis-a-vis the different types of disasters (we’ve focused on natural hazards and merely on the elements but what about pandemics, floods as resulting from environmental degradation, civil unrest, terrorism, war, chemical spillages, etc.?) What’s the profile of these areas? the residents, in terms of their communication patterns and access to communication channels? And be conscious of the fact that data collected now is entirely not the same after 3 to 5 five years, meaning, an M&E system should be in place, preferably one that can be run by locals themselves and capable of vertical and horizontal integration with other but similar databases. Resilience of the project (or, system) is correlated with the quality of M&E systems; without needed data anytime and anywhere it is needed, planners and implementers are walking blind. You could rely on your guts perhaps in love (although what may be termed ‘guts’ is actually your subconscious seeing patterns in the behavior – which is a scientific procedure – and the familiar act is the one you often respond positively toward) but it is science that will get you to the moon and back.

Regardless, the launch of Project DINA and the NCBS should be accompanied, where these are needed, with increased access to improved utilities and telecommunication services and lines.