Ironies of Rural Development Intervention

A story told by a researcher recently returned from Afghanistan, working on a development program. Here he is asking people in a village:

“How often do you clean out your irrigation channel?”

“Every time the NGO pays us.”

“Well, when did they last pay you?”

“Two years ago.”

“How often did you clean the irrigation channel before the NGO arrived to work in the region?”

“Every year.”

Apocryphal as the story may be, it still is a wonderful illustration of how interventions can change the local calculus, substituting for local effort and thereby leading to bizarre, unanticipated distortions. That theme is probably relevant to many rural development programs across the region. If you have any similar stories, let us know.