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Achieving the Millennium Development goals won't happen without support from governments, the private sector and NGOs. The challenge is daunting, and pathways to success non-obvious. But the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) thinks it has a solution: basic, straightforward projects with an explicit emphasis on the needs of the poor supported by cooperation between governments and business. These "pro-poor public-private partnerships" -- referred to by the UN group as "5P" -- are helping rural communities in various Asian and Pacific countries get closer to the Millennium Development Goals, and are doing so in environmentally sustainable ways.

In 2003, UNESCAP started four "5P" projects, each emphasizing a different key Millennium Development Goal category: water, electricity, health care and biodiversity. A brochure detailing the projects can be downloaded here (PDF).

In Sri Lanka, the 5P model is being used to provide clean water to a low-income urban community near Colombo. Prior to the project, residents of Halgahakumbura had to wait for hours to fill up pots and buckets at public taps. Although the water was free, the time burden -- which fell almost entirely upon women -- and the health risks were costly. A partnership between Petra Engineering Services, the National Water Supply and Drainage Board, and the Halgahakumbura community is bringing piped water to homes. Although no longer free, the water supply is far less costly than from direct privatization, and a microcredit system helps residents to pay for the hookups over time.

"We are now willing to pay for piped water connections since it will save us a lot of time and effort spent every day on collecting water," says Palita Subasinghe, President of the Halagahakumbura Community Development Council.

Typically, community members, especially women, spend a few hours everyday waiting in queues to fill up water containers, time that can be spent productively in income-generating activities.

"Women in particular will be the biggest beneficiaries of this project, since normally they are the ones expected to stand in queues and fill up water containers for the entire family everyday. They are going to be very happy," says K. A. Jayaratne, President of Sevanatha, an NGO involved in the social and community aspects of the project.

UNESCAP looks at the Sri Lanka project as a model for expanding access to water across so as to be able to handle the region's growing population -- 60 million new people needing clean water every year in the Asia and Pacific region.

In Indonesia, UNESCAP is coordinating a mini-hydro project in a village three hours from Jakarta. Before the 5P project started, nearly 20% of the homes in Cinta Mekar were without electricity due to poverty, and 90% of the village's inhabitants relied on agriculture or employment outside the village for their incomes. The project brought together the Indonesian state electricity provider, an Indonesian hydropower company (Hidropiranti Inti Bakti Swadaya, or HIBS), and the Cinta Mekar community. The result is a 120 kilowatt mini-hydro power facility, providing electricity and jobs for the town, and generating income for the town by selling power to the national grid. This income will directly support a variety of development activities:

These activities have been decided by the people in Cinta Mekar through a Community Development Plan. The activities will include enhancement of access to education and primary health care for children and villagers; improvement of road, water and sanitation; and the provision of seed capital for off-farm income-generation activities. The People Centred Business and Economic Institute (IBEKA), an NGO, will be the focal point linking all project stakeholders together.

“Electricity by itself is not development, though development, especially economic development, needs electricity,” says Tri Mumpuni of IBEKA, emphasizing the need for a proper social development plan and long-term vision to improve the overall quality of life of the poor.

This week, UNESCAP executive secretary Kim Hak-Su visited Cinta Mekar to inaugurate the next step in the project, the construction of a Pro-Poor Public-Private Partnership Resource and Training Center, intended as a catalyst for similar 5P efforts across Indonesia and the region.

In Thailand, the 5P focus is on health care for people with HIV/AIDS. Of the estimated 670,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Thailand, only about 23,000 were receiving retroviral treatment in 2003; the Thai government wanted to expand treatment to 50,000 by the end of 2004, but didn't have sufficient personnel. Moreover, many of the people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs) were low-income, and some who had been receiving treatment dropped from the program for financial reasons. The Thailand 5P effort trained PLWHAs as community healthcare and outreach workers, relying on support from both commercial medical groups and Medicins sans Frontières. In addition, UNESCAP helped fund the "CPA Positive Marketing Company," a venture in cooperation with a local HIV community support group, to serve as a promotion and marketing firm for businesses run by and for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Finally, in Pakistan, UNESCAP is coordinating a biodiversity park, with an emphasis on making the park accessible -- and useful -- to the regional poor. Less than five percent of Pakistan's land has tree cover; the conservation of the remaining biodiversity is a priority for the government. Pakistan is trying a number of different models in different locations, but the use of a pro-poor public-private partnership for biodiversity support is entirely new -- this is the first project of its kind anywhere. A local refinery provided the land, the government provided technical expertise for setting up the park, and NGOs and local non-profits developed the park-related income-producing activities for the community, including work on nurseries for ornamental and medicinal plants, waste management, and compost and vending contracts.

UNESCAP emphasizes that support for biodiversity is an important part of reaching development goals.

Bio-diversity constitutes the most important working component of a natural eco-system. It helps maintain ecological processes, creates soils, recycles nutrients and has a moderating effect on the weather. Bio-diversity is particularly important for the lives of the poor as it offers food security, traditional medicines and shelter for their day-to-day survival. “The poor depend much more on bio-diversity than the rich. It provides shelter, a roof, walls and food to them apart from meeting their energy. In fact 90 per cent of the needs of the poor are met from bio-diversity resources,” says Mohammad Aslam Khan, Chief, Environment Section, UNESCAP.

Each of these four projects represents a different approach to public-private partnerships, and each has its drawbacks. Still, notion of government and business working together with the express purpose of aiding development is a good one. UNESCAP may be pioneering it in the Asia/Pacific region, but expect to see the 5P model adopted by development groups worldwide.

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seminar topic on medicinal plants for waste lands


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