Poverty after the Israeli-Palestinian ConflictWhile the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been brewing since 1948 after Israel became a sovereign state, the two regions’ dispute reached a boiling point in May 2021. While each side exchanged fire, the citizens of both nations were in the middle of the crossfire. However, conditions will hopefully improve as the two nations continue to make amends.

What is Happening Now?

In May 2021, after a multitude of Palestinian demonstrations, Israel launched both lethal and nonlethal attacks on the Palestinian group Hamas in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Israel raided a mosque in Gaza which caused Hamas to retaliate. The Global Conflict tracker says that Israel launched more than 100 rockets during the attack leaving dozens of Palestinians dead.

Although both sides declared outright victory in the recent battles, both Hamas and Israel agreed to a ceasefire on May 21. The United States has offered to orchestrate an agreement between Israel and Palestine during both the Trump and Biden presidencies. While Palestine denied the Trump agreement, Biden is still working to alleviate tensions.

The Impact on Citizens

The conflict has impacted both Israeli and Palestinian citizens. Refugees in Jerusalem face removal amidst the debate. According to Amnesty International, Palestinian citizens in Israel experience discrimination as they cannot obtain marriage licenses or education, and experiencing home evictions and torture. Gender-based violence and racism are also running rampant.

The BBC has stated that the nations have lost electricity and have lost their homes due to the rocket attacks, however, the power is slowly turning back on. Gaza City faces severe overpopulation; 9,000 people inhabit the area per square kilometer. People have experienced limitations in regard to health, water and food convoy services. For example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has left a million citizens in Gaza City who is “moderately-to-severely food insecure.” Over 40% of those citizens are also unemployed in the strip.

How is the World Helping?

The United States Senate recently passed the Israel Normalization Act of 2021. The bill, according to Congress, “[promotes] the normalization of relations between Israel, Arab states, and other relevant countries and regions” and by improving relationships between Israel and other Arabic countries including Palestine. Another facet is that “the State Department must report on options for U.S. international efforts to promote the strengthening of ties between Israel, Arab states, and other relevant countries and regions.” The State Department also announced that it would donate $360 million worth of assistance to Palestine; many of the funds are supporting the U.N. and other humanitarian organizations. The Palestinian government will receive another $75 million for “economic assistance.”

The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also stated that global aid efforts are present in Gaza, including many of the same teams that helped with recent Haitian earthquakes. The focus of these teams is to promote medical transfers and international aid. The International Red Cross has also delivered more than 1,000 household items to Gaza residents and deployed a surgical team to the area. In late May 2021, the BBC reported that aid had arrived in Gaza via a convoy only hours after the implementation of the ceasefire. Recent reports state that conditions are steadily improving as more help comes from international partners.

– Laken Kincaid
Photo: Flickr

SunBox Solar Kits For the 1.9 million Palestinians who live in the Gaza strip, electricity is a privilege. Due to a lack of available energy, people experience regular blackouts that disrupt their daily lives. These blackouts keep residents from fully enjoying the benefits of electricity, such as regular internet access and lighting. Fortunately, local engineer and entrepreneur, Majd Mashhawari is bringing cheap electricity to families through her new invention, SunBox. Mashhawari’s SunBox solar kits provide clean solar power to households, providing off-the-grid energy and internet access.

Electricity in Gaza

One diesel power plant produces almost all electricity for Gaza but it is not able to produce enough electricity to power the region at all times. Because of restrictions on exports and imports in Gaza, the plant only has access to a restricted amount of imported fuel. As a result, it has been forced to implement a system of rolling blackouts. According to SunBox founder, Mashhawari, hospitals in Gaza receive 10 hours of electricity a day, which the hospitals can afford to supplement with private generators. Everyone else lives on three to five hours of electricity a day unless they can pay for a generator.

If people in Gaza had reliable access to electricity, they would be able to cook, refrigerate food, run businesses effectively, access the internet and study after dark. The first two activities boost health, while the latter three increase earnings and success. Access to electricity has a strong impact on reducing poverty.

SunBox Solar Kits

SunBox solar kits could be the key to ending Gaza’s electricity crisis. SunBox has provided solar energy for 300 families since the company’s launch two years ago. Its solar kits have produced 600,000 watts of energy so far. As a small business, it employs 35 people, helping to combat Gaza’s high unemployment rates.

SunBox solar kits consist of one or two solar panels, a battery and a solar device. The panels are attached to the roof of a building and the solar device provides internet access and a plug-in for electrical devices. These kits provide 1,000 kilowatts of solar energy to consumers in a region where most days are sunny. The battery typically takes only three hours to recharge fully.

Business-wise, SunBox has profited from its “sharing is caring model.” People who cannot afford to pay for the $350 kits can buy the kit with other families, sharing the costs and the electricity. SunBox has also installed kits at desalination plants, helping to power the creation of clean water.

Female Entrepreneur: Majd Mashhawari

SunBox is the brainchild of Mashhawari, who understands the need for better electricity in Gaza because she grew up there. The territory began conducting electrical blackouts when she was 12. Mashhawari went on to attend the Islamic University of Gaza, where she majored in civil engineering. She has put her degree to good use, developing two products so far that help tackle Gaza’s unique infrastructure needs. These products are GreenCake and SunBox.

Mashhawari’s first product, GreenCake, was a building block made from ash and rubble. The Israel-Hamas war in 2014 had damaged many buildings in Gaza and rebuilding was difficult because of limits on cement imports. Mashhawari saw the need for cheap building materials that could be made from domestically available substances. Her team conducted experiments, eventually designing a cheap, durable building block made from ash and rubble, two elements that were abundant in Gaza. After her success in launching GreenCake in 2016, Mashhawari went on to create SunBox in 2018.

Mashhawari’s work has come to wider attention because of a TED Talk she gave in 2019 about her inventions. During her TED Talk, Mashhawari touted the success of her products and the need to find creative solutions to difficult problems. She also recalled that when she attended university, her school’s civil engineering program had a female-to-male ratio of one to six. Mashhawari stressed her devotion to supporting other female scientists, proudly describing how SunBox was hiring and training both female and male engineers.

Local Inventions Address Poverty

Mashhawari’s products show the inventiveness of local entrepreneurs and their ability to create solutions that are tailored to their region. She developed her products to address the specific needs of her fellow people, granting them a better way of life. Her designs are cheap and environmentally friendly and because of her dedication to hiring female engineers, her company supports female education and economic empowerment. In the fight against global poverty, it is encouraging to be reminded that there are locally developed, environmentally friendly and cost-effective solutions.

– Sarah Brinsley
Photo: Flickr

Instagram Provides a View of GazaIn June 2007, Israel began a strict land, sea and air blockade of Gaza. Nearly two million people live locked inside, the borders rigorously controlled. The movement of goods and humans are harshly restricted, and for as much as 72 percent of the population, food supplies are uncertain. 41 percent are unemployed. Hospitals must rely on generators to maintain life-saving equipment, and their stock of medicine dwindles dangerously. Drinking water is in danger of running out if the highly-taxed desalinization plants break down.

Through the camera lenses of two Palestinian women, Instagram provides a view of Gaza that few outsiders are allowed to see. Though forbidden to leave Gaza, Kholoud Nassar and Fatma Mosabah are Instagram celebrities by showing the world there is more to Gaza than the war. Each woman has over 100,000 Instagram followers. Through images captured by Nassar and Mosabah on their cell phones, Instagram provides a view of Gaza to those who live outside its restrictive borders. The people of Gaza, locked inside a land mass the approximate size of Philadelphia, recognize Nassar and Mosabah several times a day,

Israel guards Gaza’s borders to the east and north by Israel, Egypt to the south and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. Gazans must obtain permission to leave the area. Neither Nassar nor Mosabah has left Gaza in over 10 years. Also, Israel denies tourists permission to visit Gaza. The rest of the world can only imagine what life is like inside the heavily guarded strip. Since 2008, three wars have played out between Hamas and Israel. For most, the mention of Gaza conjures visions of devastation, poverty and suffering.

Although Gazans receive just a short period of electricity each day, social media sites are remarkably popular. Palestinian Social Media Club president Ali Bkheet calculates that approximately 50 percent of Gazans have Facebook accounts. The number utilizing Twitter and Instagram are significantly smaller.

According to Bkheet, the decade-long Israeli blockade makes Gazans particularly enthusiastic to use social media to express themselves and narrate the story of Gaza.

Rather than using text to educate outsiders about life in Gaza, Kholoud Nassar and Fatma Mosabah depict the people and the beauty of their homeland through pictures. Instagram’s focus on photos over text and political debates enables the two women to show a different side of Gaza that exists behind the Israeli-built steel mesh fence.

Heather Hopkins

Photo: Google

Water Quality in Palestine

Gaza is one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world, with 1.8 million people confined in a 140-mile radius. The only water resource, the Coastal Aquifer, is insufficient for the needs of the population. Water access and water quality in Palestine leaves a lot to be desired.

The World Bank reported on the poor water quality in Palestine, as well as the lack of access to sanitation services that reached crisis proportions. Due to said conditions, Palestinians in Gaza are forced to over-extract water from the Coastal Aquifer in order to stay alive. They obtain water at a rate equivalent to twice the aquifer’s yearly sustainable yield, causing the water to become contaminated.

In 2008, WHO estimated that 26% of diseases in Gaza were water-related, a statistic that could be higher now that 90-95% of Gaza water is polluted and unfit for human consumption. Due to the contamination, high levels of nitrite were found in the groundwater at levels far above the WHO accepted guideline of 50mg per liter. Such dispersion has increased cases of methemoglobinemia, a blood disorder that impedes the flow of oxygen in young infants.

Why Palestinians in Gaza Lack Water Facilities

The water quality in Palestine remains unsanitary due to Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and military operations hinder the possibility of Palestinians restoring their water facilities. Wells, cisterns and roof water tanks have been destroyed and damaged, most notably during the Israeli attacks in 2008 and 2014.

During the 2008 Operation ‘Cast Lead,’ Israel caused U.S. $6 million worth of damage to Gaza’s water supply and wastewater facilities. In 2014 the Israeli attack on Gaza resulted in heavy destruction of infrastructure; the total damage was estimated to be $4.4 billion and included water and sanitation facilities.

The loss of water facilities has had a lasting impact on the Palestinians in Gaza. The continued blockade by Israeli security forces prevents the import of equipment and spare parts needed to repair and improve the water supply and sanitation systems. Even simple sanitation items such as chlorine are not permitted.

Furthermore, water main and sewage conduits are routinely crushed by Israeli tanks and armored vehicles. Water tanks are also shot at and damaged by Israeli soldiers.

Addressing the Issue Through the BDS Movement

In 2007 Palestinians founded “Lifesource,” a collective working at the grassroots level to organize for water justice.

The mission of Lifesource is to:

  1. Educate Palestinians about their water rights and enable communities to take an active role in improving the situation.
  2. Promote and utilize nonviolent popular resistance tactics for the human rights to water and sanitation.
  3. Connect popular movements locally and globally to support Palestinian water rights.

In 2009 “Lifesource” partnered with the global campaign Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

Lifesource led a program called “BDS for Palestinian Water Justice,” supporting boycott divestment and eschewing sanctions that infringe on Palestinians right to water and sanitation. The BDS Movement works to increase economic and political pressure on Israel to end the occupation and colonization of Palestinian land. By organizing demonstrations that target companies that have contracts with Israel, companies are pressured to break ties with Israel, thus deterring the country from continuing to occupy Palestine. Their work led to some success: water companies profiteering from human rights violations, such as Eden Springs and Veolia, lost important contracts and had to downsize or close their doors.

Although Lifesource came to an end in 2012, the BDS movement is still up and running, giving Palestinians in Gaza hope that their basic human needs will continue to be addressed.

Marcelo Guadiana

Photo: Flickr

Youth in Gaza
The ongoing power struggle between the Israeli government and Hamas has adversely affected youth in Gaza. The situation has been exacerbating since the 2007 Israeli blockade on the Gaza strip. Moreover, youth unemployment rates have risen to a staggering 60 percent, with a nearly 80 percent dependency on foreign aid.

An analysis conducted by the International Labor Organization (ILO) accentuates that the youth in Gaza working between the ages of 10-17 has soared to 9,700. Many are below the legal age of 15, and this figure is presumed to be much more in reality.

With rising food prices and varying degrees of income disparity over the years, the plight of the youth has only intensified. The deficiency in the labor market has made it difficult for people to find work. As a result, young children work for meagre amounts to support their families, without even the basic provision of insurance.

“I have to work to earn extra money – my father is ill, and my mum has no food for us,” exclaims 7-year-old Imad Awadallah.

Humanitarian aid has benefited many young children, but the British government’s recent probe into Palestinian authorities may show a prolonged misuse of this aid.

SOS Children’s Villages has been providing care and early education to young children in Rafah since 1999. Their youth home has also helped young people with basic training to adjust to the challenges that adult life entails.

United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has also provided outstanding education in Gaza for the past few years. For three years, the El-Wedad Society for Community Rehabilitation has been spearheading the push for children’s rights. They visit families and highlight the vitality of education through seminars and sessions.

It is imperative to ensure mobility and efficiency in the provision of aid. While channeling humanitarian aid, collaboration with the Palestinian government is necessary.

Countries in the region have reached out to those impoverished children. Notably, an envoy from the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization arrived on June 16 with medical supplies. Also, many in Karara will receive help through the Turkish Crescent’s inception of the first aid station.

Moreover, the initiatives organized by Gaza’s Social Affairs Ministry of Labor will enhance a variety of skills, such as sewing and carpentry, which will help make the youth more self- sufficient. Thus, there should be an increased propensity to remain in school–increasing literacy rates are vital to increasing the diversity of the labor market.

The deployment of peacekeepers serves a dual purpose: 1) It is a necessary precaution to ensure the steady flow of aid and 2) it protects vulnerable groups (such as young children) in the more turbulent areas. Aid workers must also be well trained and experienced to safeguard the interests of the children.

Businesses that use exploitation and child labor have the potential to be blacklisted by the U.N., as it is a violation. Potential creditors must also refrain from investing in such businesses.

Considering the revolts in 2014, possible cessation of hostilities between the Hamas and Israeli government is indefinite. However, we can create awareness by supporting NGOs like Save the Children and Islamic Relief USA. Alleviating the harsh situations faced by the youth in Gaza will positively impact all involved.

Shivani Ekkanath

Photo: Flickr

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Job Creation Program (JCP) gives women in Gaza the opportunity to work from 6:30 a.m. -12:30 p.m. on a carnation farm, which in turn, allows them to support their families.

A typical day begins with women picking flowers in the cool hours of the morning before later retreating into their tents. There, flowers are carefully bundled into decorative bouquets to be exported and sold at local Gaza markets.

According to an article in the UNRWA, 34-year-old worker Ghanda Na’ana’ has finally found a way to provide for her children in the absence of a husband through her employment with the farm.

“The chance to work here is life-saving for me. I am truly happy to be able to work on this farm together with other women. My husband left me three years ago for another woman; I am the only one who supports my children. We survive because of the food assistance we receive from UNRWA,” she says.

An overarching goal and initiative of the UNRWA JCP addresses the problem of female unemployment while also supporting the agricultural sector of the region.

The UNRWA aims to improve the “quality and output of production by increasing manpower to assist with planting, maintenance and harvesting crops while reducing labor costs, which presumably translates into a reduction of market costs for the consumer and ultimately contributes to local food security.”

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, in the first quarter of 2015, female unemployment in Gaza reached 55.2 percent. This can be attributed to the 2007 blockade which limited exports, obliterating trading opportunities with the rest of the world and severely affecting the agricultural sector of the region.

Raza Hijazi, the owner of the farm where Ghanda works, formerly employed 20 laborers before he was forced to reduce that number to only three. With the 2007 blockade, his business opportunities dwindled as he could no longer export his flowers to Europe. Only with support from the UNRWA, was he able to increase his business and number of employees.

Overall, the JCP has significantly improved the livelihoods for many since its inception in 2006 when 18,385 opportunities were created in the agricultural sector alone (6,350 for female and 12,035 male). Of this number, 2,571 were counted for in the carnation sector.

As of 2014 the UNRWA has calculated that “a total of 20,545 refugees were employed through the JCP, and UNRWA injected US$ 18.1 million into the Gaza economy. In the first quarter of 2015, the Agency created 12,646 JCP opportunities and injected US$ 7 million into the Gaza economy.”

With tremendous efforts currently underway by UNRWA’S JCP, hope is alive for both business owners and women seeking jobs in a country with one of the highest levels of unemployment in the world.

Nikki Schaffer

Sources: UNRWA, Reuters
Photo: alarabiya

GazaEarlier this month, football clubs from Gaza and the West Bank traveled to face one another in the Palestine Cup for the first time in more than 15 years. Shijaiyah United of Gaza faced West Bank’s Al-Ahly squad, and more than 2,000 fans of both teams alike were in full attendance at Gaza’s al-Yarmouk stadium.

League winners from Gaza and the West Bank were previously allowed to travel and meet for the Palestine Cup; however, this has been restricted by Israel since 2000 due to security risks and concerns. The Israeli Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the governing body in charge of Palestinian travel, granted the clubs’ requests.

Prior to the contest, COGAT announced in June that it would be easing travel restrictions to and from Gaza and the West Bank. The change was made to accommodate Palestinians traveling to celebrate during the month of Ramadan. Residents were allowed to apply for travel visas, which allowed them to visit immediate family members. For the first time, bus services and airports were open to transport residents between Gaza and the West Bank.

Upon the team’s arrival at al-Yarmouk stadium, Al-Ahly’s Khaldon al-Halman said, “I am full of honour and pride, this is the first time I have ever visited Gaza and I can’t find the words to describe my feelings.”

Geographically, the two regions are only separated by a few dozen miles, but the match was momentous due to Israel’s strict travel restrictions for Palestinians. The meeting was even more noteworthy considering the recent history and events of just this past year.

Hostilities erupted between Israel and Palestine this past Summer. Throughout the course of the conflict, the United Nations estimated that approximately 18,000 homes and structures of Gaza were destroyed by airstrikes and shelling. The structural destruction has left an estimated 108,000 Gazans homeless.

“We are all coming from underneath the rubble. Every player knows someone who was killed or injured, every player has had their house destroyed,” says Ibrahim Muajib Wadi of Shijaiyah.

For an area that has endured decades of turmoil and violence, the local football clubs have inspired a common pride, and Palestinian unity has blossomed as a result. This has provided hope in a form unavailable anywhere else.

“I support both teams! It’s one country, and both will represent Palestine if they win, It’s a celebration for Palestine, for all of us,” says Mohammed Yahya, a young spectator at the second game of the two-part series final.

The ruling powers, Hamas and Fatah, govern Gaza and the West Bank respectively and are, in theory, striving towards a unified Palestine. Relations, however, have not always been smooth between the governing bodies as they share a history of political gridlock.

This divide has left Palestine separated physically, as well as politically. However, despite the geographic and diplomatic split that currently exists, the politicians’ unification has manifested itself among the people in an unconventional way.

Palestinians are hopeful that the match symbolizes a continued sign of freer movement through Israel. For now, Palestinians are reveling with pride from the ability to support their football teams in person.

While Shijaiyah won the second and deciding match 2-1 over Al-Ahly, the experience provides the people with an invaluable boost to morale and generates a hopeful optimism. In regards to the final score, Wadi understood the contest’s importance, “In the end, the only winner is Palestine.”

The Borgen Project

Sources: Washington Times, The Guardian, Yahoo, New York Times
Photo: The Guardian

explore_corpsUsing local talent and resources, Explore Corps is able to change the future of developing communities by working with youth to grow up to be leaders, conservationists and to practice sustainability. Explore Corps helps youth gain knowledge, mature and develop on their terms while working on projects that are community driven, culturally sensitive and environmentally friendly.

Explore Corps’ mission is to explore different communities, educate locals and empower youth. The Explore Corps’ team consists entirely of volunteers who are equipped to work with challenging communities and address the complexities of enacting youth projects. Volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds including outdoor education, recreational programming and youth development.

Explore Corps has worked on four major projects comprising of the Search Spark Stoke Tour, which took place in 2012, The Gaza Surf Club, Surfing 4 Peace, and Gaza Surf Relief. These projects focus on using local resources in Gaza, like surfing, to help children on the Gaza Strip affected by war.

The Gaza Surf Club was founded by Explore Corps director, Matthew Olsen, in 2008. The project serves as an educational opportunity for Palestinian surfers on the Gaza Strip. Members of the clubs work with local organizations to develop workshops and tailored educational programming to educate locals on how to properly utilize local resources, development training and international outreach. The team consists of 25 surfers who dedicate their time to teaching.

The Search Spark Stoke tour took place in the winter of 2012 after Concrete Wave Magazine creator, Michael Brooke, approached Explore Corps to help him initiate his project, Longboarding for Peace. Brooke worked to secure the funding and public relations side of the project, while Explore Corps was in charge of creating venues and workshops and assembling instructors for the tour.

Longboarding for Peace successfully created a new delivery system for peace programming on the Gaza Strip while permanently creating an after school longboarding program for students.

Another project started by Explore Corps is Surf 4 Peace. Surf 4 Peace works to break through cultural and political barriers between communities in the Middle East and bring everyone closer together. The project was started in 2007 by surfer, Arthur Rashkovan and ambassador, Dorian Paskowitz and is based in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Gaza Surf Relief was created to raise funds for Gaza’s surf community. The project was started in the summer of 2007 by Seweryn Stalkoper, who is an associate for Hedge Fund Trading. He worked from his home in Santa Monica, California gathering donations and successfully raised enough money to buy 15 brand new surfboards, several used surfboards, board shorts, t-shirts, and rash guards among other items. Explore Corps currently has several new projects in the works that will continue to help the youth living on the Gaza Strip utilize surfing.

Julia Hettiger

Sources: Explore Corps, BBC, The Goodwin Project
Photo: The Goodwin Project

EU/UNICEF Seawater Desalination Efforts in GazaThe Gaza Strip has a population of 1.7 million, which is expected to grow to 2.1 million by 2020. The demand for clean water access will also undoubtedly increase. In lieu of rivers or streams, the region has thus far had to survive by drawing water from its lone coastal aquifer. However, water is being extracted at a rate of 47 billion gallons per year and has far surpassed its annual rate replenishment of around 16 billion gallons.

This has caused the aquifer to fill with salinated water from the Mediterranean. Estimates show that approximately 90 percent of the water drawn is unsafe to consume. In addition to the seawater influx, the aquifer is contaminated by untreated sewage. Roughly 90,000 cubic meters of sewage flow from Gaza to the coastal waters.

The demand for water has caused many unregulated vendors to begin selling water to make a profit, but roughly 80 percent of the water sold by street vendors is also contaminated. The desperation of Gazans, however, has become increasingly apparent. As many as 4 out of 5 will resort to purchasing potentially unsafe water by these private sellers.

In addition to a possibly serious health risk, this also places an economic strain on many Gazans. “Some families are paying as much as a third of their household income on water,” states June Kunugi, a UNICEF representative for Palestine.

In response to Gaza’s water crisis, UNICEF has worked to complete 18 small desalination taps where residents can draw water free of charge. Also provided, are 3 brackish (mixed fresh & saltwater) plants that are capable of desalinating 50 cubic meters per hour and 10 plants capable of treating 50 cubic meters per day. In total, these plants are estimated to provide water for 95,000 residents.

In 2013, the European Union (EU) announced a collaboration with UNICEF to build a major seawater desalination plant. The project was made possible by a €10 million grant provided by the European Union. The plant is projected to provide 6,000 square meters of water to residents of the two cities.

In an announcement of the project, European Union Representative John Gatt-Rutter stated “The launch of construction work on this seawater desalination plant, offers the prospect of access to clean water for many thousands of families in Khan Younis and Rafah. It forms part of the EU’s wider commitment to improving the lives of Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank, particularly in the area of water, sanitation and solid waste management.”

The 18 km pipeline that divides water between the cities of Rafah and Khan Younis was recently completed, marking the first step towards a monumental solution. Once the plant is completed in late 2015, it is expected to be capable of providing clean water to more than 75,000 Gazans.

– The Borgen Project

Sources: Al Jazeera America, UNICEF, Water Technology
Photo: Flickr

client power
As paying customers, what do people do when dissatisfied with a service? They register a complaint with the company, and then perhaps try another service. This is the essence of a competitive market. Quality of service is forced to remain high when clients have this power. Is it possible to generate this power when the customer is dependent on public service? In other words, how can development and public projects be made more accountable and transparent with better service provided?

Greater vigilance by government authorities, higher monetary incentives to employees and increased funding for diverse projects can go toward improving service provisions. However, client power can be crucial in making strides toward this goal as well.

When consumers have a strong voice, more can be achieved. A 2004 World Bank development report describes the example of Kerala, an Indian state, where significant success has been achieved in major social sectors like literacy and health care. A part of this success is attributed to informed citizen action and political activism.

Community advocacy groups are indispensable in providing a voice for the poor. In 1994, a civil society organization, or CSO, in Bangalore, India introduced the idea of report cards for public services. Results of these reports revealed corruption, lack of access and other flaws that were actively publicized by the press. These results led managers of public agencies to take measures to improve their services, leading other cities and countries to adopt similar approaches.

In Uganda, CSOs trained community monitors to check the quality of service delivery in order to reduce corruption. In Mexico, groups found ways to access and understand information on public program budgets so as to enable lobbying for budget policy changes. These contributions to public health programs and health equity have been valuable in several places across the globe.

It is remarkable how purchasing power can affect a consumer’s ability to demand better service. The ability to choose and purchase one’s own welfare instills a new level of accountability in the provider.

When Zambian truck drivers contributed to a road fund, they took turns to ensure that no overloaded trucks passed the road and that their contributions maintained this road. In Andhra Pradesh, an Indian state, farmers who paid for their water supply felt that they could hold the irrigation department more accountable.

One way to increase this purchasing power is to provide government subsidies with cash transfers, which goes directly to the families as vouchers. Allowing subsidies or vouchers in public and private arenas will increase competition, thereby creating a natural pressure to provide better quality service. In addition, it gives people the right to choose what is best for them, which can be invaluable in increasing self-confidence. For example, Qatar charities provided families in war-torn Gaza with shopping vouchers, which they could use on food items. This measure preserved the dignity of the beneficiary.

Measures like these could return the power to the consumer, demanding accountability for public service. In the future, it will play a valuable part in implementing pro-poor policies.

Mithila Rajagopal

Sources: Capacity, Relief Web, World Bank, World Health Organization
Photo: Flickr