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A small grant supports remote Diamer District in Pakistan and leads to large impacts

Display Date: 12/5/11

This article was originally published in the APR Newsletter ‘Making a Difference in Asia and the Pacific’, Issue 40, in December 2011.
Author: Abdul Karim

'Valley Conferences' give a voice to communities and provide a forum for joint decision making to achieve common benefits.

The Gilgit-Baltistan region, formerly Northern Areas, of Pakistan is a patriarchal society with a strong tribal way of life and a heavy influence of orthodox clergy. Development has been slow due to a very conservative and closed outlook. IFAD started to work in the area in 1998 through the Northern Areas Development Project (NADP). Due to many constraints which are discussed in this article, the project was slow and difficult, especially in District Diamer. As a result, when the project ended in 2008, the Government of Pakistan requested additional support from IFAD in the form of a grant to strengthen the institutional capacity of the Diamer Poverty Alleviation Programme (DPAP).

Diamer District – a development challenge

The Gilgit-Baltistan region in general, and district Diamer in particular, remained cut off from rest of the country, except for the summer months when a shingle road allowed transport in and out of the area. All the ethics and lifestyle of a typical tribal society prevailed and class stratification ran quite deep. Common people were restricted from seeking an education. As a result the literacy rate in Diamer never rose above 10 per cent; and females never above 0.02 per cent.

Community members sharing experiences during an exposure visit

While rest of the region forged ahead with the support of the Rural Support Programme implemented by the Aga Khan Foundation (1982-1994), Diamer lagged behind due to a general suspicion of all development initiatives, including government-funded schools and health facilities. Culturally, Diamer was any development practitioner’s ultimate challenge, according to IFAD’s Project Completion Review in 2009.

IFAD and the Government of Pakistan co-financed the Northern Areas Development Project (NADP) from 1998-2008 to reduce poverty through targeted interventions in Diamer District that would boost agricultural production and incomes, set up community organizations to provide technical and social services, improve the status of women by introducing culturally acceptable activities, improve the resource base through irrigation and forestry, and facilitate access to markets by constructing valley and feeder roads.

A slow and difficult start

Paving the way to create small link roads in the rugged mountains of Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindokush for access to markets

With a very difficult start-up and few initial achievements, NADP faced a hostile environment in Diamer District mainly for a number of choices it made that were not appropriate – for example, trying to organize women into formal groups. However, the project strategy was revised with the consultation of the clergy. For example, informal women’s groups were created under the patronage of a senior male family member, and demand-driven interventions were provided such as free medical camps for women in remote valleys where health facilities did not exist. After these revisions, the project covered a lot of ground in very short time – the most outstanding being the attitude change in a closed tribal society and the improvements in communication and incomes due to project interventions. A great opportunity for building on this change is there for the taking.

Important lessons for the future

A number of important lessons were learned during the implementation of NADP:

  • Flexibility in resources and approaches is a must for success in areas like Diamer.
  • A poverty survey of target villages should be the first activity to identify the households most in need.
  • Roads and links to markets should be a priority in areas like Diamer.
  • Community-executed rural infrastructure brings better efficiencies.
  • Markets and marketing need to be an integral part of efforts to enhance productivity.
  • Revolving funds are an excellent instrument for developing financial autonomy and self-reliance of extension agencies.
  • Female staff are a must in order for extension activities to reach women.
  • In conservative societies like Diamer, projects should have an incremental approach to social mobilization, starting with very “soft” areas and activities.
  • Greater incentives are needed in areas like Diamer to attract and retain quality staff;

Supporting institution-building of the Diamer Poverty Allevaition Programme

When NADP ended, the Government of Pakistan felt the need to capitalize on the lessons learned and the change that NADP started to bring to the lives of Diamer’s people. It requested IFAD to provide additional support in Diamer District in the form of a grant. With the objective of strengthening the Diamer Poverty Alleviation Programme (DPAP) – a pro-poor institution in Pakistan – and supporting other participatory development institutions such as local support organizations for providing sustainable services in District Diamer, IFAD provided a US$200,000 grant to the Government of Pakistan through the ‘Support for Institution-Building of the Diamer Poverty Alleviation Programme’ (2010-2014).

The project aimed to support DPAP by:

  • improving DPAP’s efficiency of management to enable it to provide key services to local community members on a sustainable basis
  • increasing acceptance and ownership of DPAP’s interventions by local communities;
  • optimizing use of resources to meet the needs of the communities
  • increasing donor and public investment and technology transfer in the district
  • strengthening capacities of members of community organizations (COs) and women development groups (WDGs) to enhance their institutional sustainability
  • improving the CO/WDG linkages with the public and private sector service delivery entities
  • promoting local communities’ market linkages.

Linking with other UN agencies to expand support

In 2010, DPAP provided support in the post-flood recovery and rehabilitation activities of the government and international agencies. The first intervention in Diamer was the Emergency Relief Operation in collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP). Under this project, WFP provided food assistance to the flood-affected population. Through DPAP, IFAD supported this activity in Diamer, playing a vital role in planning, execution and monitoring. Between September 2010 and February 2011, DPAP distributed approximately 1,000 metric tons of food items to 13,000 families in the most difficult and remote valleys.

After the successful completion of the project, WFP started up a rehabilitation phase, Food for Work (FFW), as part of its Early Recovery Project (March-August 2011). DPAP signed a memorandum of understanding with WFP and thus entered into the project. Through the FFW schemes, 1,389 metric tons of food were distributed among 17,000 families. In addition, almost 1,700 other schemes (for example water channels, protective walls, foot bridges and pony treks) were rehabilitated.

The memorandum of understanding was renewed for the execution of another project to construct 750 permanent shelters for affected families. DPAP also helped the NGO ‘Shining Light’ to set up 500 transitional shelters. The planning, design and construction procedures – most notably the use of local materials for 95 per cent of the construction – were formulated by DPAP.

In June 2011, when most of the projects were completed, UNICEF implemented a water, environment and sanitation project in which water supply and sanitations schemes will be rehabilitated. DPAP is executing both components and has also established the electronic accounting system and trained the project staff in accounting systems from the grant provided by IFAD.

A change in attitude makes the difference

Through its interventions in Diamer District since 1998, including the recent grant-funded project, IFAD has significantly contributed to the attitude change, particularly in the Darel and Tangir Valleys. After the initial misunderstandings and resistance mainly due to cultural and religious factors, beneficiary communities became quite vocal in demanding that the project continue. This is due to the impact that the project had on the communities. For example:

  • Link roads have made large parts of the remote valleys accessible to markets and social services for the first time.
  • The introduction of new agricultural techniques such as double-cropping and new vegetable varieties has spread rapidly, and considerable surpluses are now being exported from the valleys.
  • The introduction of improved fruit varieties, especially apples, has transformed agriculture and boosted farmer earnings in a very short time.
  • Woman’s’ development activities in most of the project area are gradually developing, and it is no longer impossible to discuss various options for their development with the people.

To conclude, a small grant support by IFAD triggered a series of interventions that have gone a long way in alleviating poverty in a remote region of the country.

Abdul Karim, Implementation Support and M&E Specialist, IFAD Pakistan Country Office

Read more:

Northern Areas Development Project
Support for Institution-Building of the Diamer Poverty Alleviation Programme
The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme in Pakistan: Is it Succeeding? Is it Replicable?


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