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instant gratification and living off one’s wits. There is no attempt made to fit in with standards and institutions that work badly. Their aim of the groups and individuals is immediate, material, tangible profit. The hunters sometimes behave like crafty poachers or like Jorge Amado’s Capitães da Areia, who roamed through the city of Salvador from its periphery in search of bargains and one-off opportunities.

When the State is a weak regulator of social life and fails to play its role as a safety net for the neediest members of society, it coexists with the appearance of marginal forms of social behaviour14. This institutional situation and the behavioural trends that result from it influence the long-term evolution of development as well as the sustainability of development projects. Local support networks structured like “cluster societies” act as a counterpoise to the informal sector and institutional instability. This diagnosis radically modifies the field of action of development projects in an urban environment. It means that action must focus on the linkage between State inadequacies and marginal culture. This is why a strategy based either on the State or on civil society, as if the two were interchangeable, is not appropriate. A policy to fight poverty which backs up neighbourhood organizations and aims to strengthen civil society inevitably requires a strong State and a solid institutional system.

When a development project relies exclusively on the dynamism of civil society, it is very likely to encounter a defensive, mistrustful attitude on the part of the population. If they are not dovetailed into institutions, neighbourhood organizations will often tend to make their participation conditional on the more or less tangible profits they can derive from it. When this happens, organizations incapable of becoming self-reliant make constant requests for assistance. They will only act when there is a prospect of obtaining funding or practical support. In these conditions a project cannot make any lasting impact.

FIFTH RECOMMENDATION: Policies to fight poverty will aim to strengthen the regulatory role of public institutions and the State. This recommendation has two objectives: enabling institutions to work and helping to reduce insecurity.


Promoting the smooth running of services and institutions directly concerned with physical living conditions in poor neighbourhoods. For example, it is not enough to install a small number of standpipes or even a drinking water supply network. Access to drinking water will need to be institutionalized by legislation, by setting up a water company when one does not exist or by providing back-up when it is underperforming or malfunctioning, by setting up a public regulatory and supervisory mechanism15.

14 In this context, although the concept of poverty is extremely important in approaching the question, it is insufficient to conceptualize what we have tried to describe here. We shall return to this point, cf. infra, V.1. Some problems often encountered in “well- intentioned” strategies to fight poverty.


Whether the property is private or public is clearly of secondary importance.


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