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Evolution of a Programme

Rasheed V. Sulaiman

Edited by Geof Wodd, Abdul Malik and Sumaira Sangheer
Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2006, pp. 522, Rs. 595.00


Northern Pakistan, comprising its Northern Areas and Chitral (NAC) is one of the most rugged and mountainous regions of Central Asia. This region is located among four of the highest mountain ranges in the world, including the Himalayas, Karakorum, Pamir and Hidukush ranges. To address the widespread poverty and vulnerability in these remote mountain valleys, the Aga Khan Foundation in 1982 established the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP). The social mobilization experiment initiated by AKRSP has been a success and it influenced and continues to influence many of those interested in addressing rural poverty not only in Pakistan, but also in other developing countries. Fortunately this book is not about legitimatizing the poverty impact of AKRSP’s presence in this region, which is well known and is supported by several external and internal evaluations. Instead, this book is a reflective account of twenty years of its work, authored and edited by a group of practitioners and thinkers who were associated with AKRSP in various ways.   Based on review and field work, the book discusses the evolution of the programme over the last twenty years that has witnessed several changes in the nature of poverty, livelihood options, development discourses, donor and government interests, emergence of new actors, as well as changes in AKRSP in terms of its understanding and response to the evolving situation. In the early eighties, many areas in the region were inaccessible and the households across the whole region were poor, but by the nineties, greater socio-economic differentiation had happened. AKRSP contributed immensely to this change. Improvements in infrastructure (mainly roads) and better access to education and communication (mainly telephones and television) brought the once isolated communities to new sources of knowledge and resultant changes in values and aspirations. While several households used these new opportunities to move up the poverty line, some households were left out. It seems the society moved from an inverted pyramid (a narrow elite with the rest generally poor) of the early eighties, to look more like a diamond by the end of the nineties (a narrow elite, a broad middle income class, though many of them still vulnerable, and a narrow base of extreme poor). However, poverty is still a major problem with 34% of the population still living below the poverty line (2001) and many more remaining vulnerable. Based on its past experience and looking at the evolving challenges, AKRSP needs to reinvent ...

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