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UN World Summit 14-16 September 2005 "Restoring dignity through work" - Employment-intensive approaches to economic recovery in Africa

Across Africa, ILO programmes have helped 25 countries put employment at the centre of public investment and poverty reduction. They are part of the ILO Decent Work Agenda and contribute directly to the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the global fight against poverty. ILO on line reports from Somalia where the Organization, along with other United Nations agencies, is currently working to help rebuild the economy after years of conflict.

Article | 16 September 2005

MOGADISHU (ILO Online) - In war-scarred Somalia, influencing attitudes, hearts and minds can translate into jobs and better lives for its long-suffering people.

With the return to peace in Somalia after a 15-year civil war, the country is tackling the immense challenge of reconstruction and economic recovery. Millions of internally displaced persons as well as thousands of ex-combatants are without a means of livelihood.

"Restoring dignity through work": This is how Joe Connolly, ILO-ASIST ( Note 1) Principal Technical Adviser describes a project underway in war-torn Somalia to create livelihoods through employment promotion and enterprise development, while rehabilitating and reconstructing economic and social infrastructure damaged during the war.

The ILO's Promotion of Economic Recovery Project in Somalia (PERPS) began in April 2002 in Hargeysa and has since spread to areas of Puntland and the ravaged capital Mogadishu.

The ILO project includes two key components: employment-intensive infrastructure and local economic development. "A labour-intensive approach creates jobs through road construction, irrigation schemes, reforestation etc., while the local economic development component assists people to identify sustainable jobs in sectors with growth potential such as brick making, honey production, low-cost housing construction, small scale mining etc.", explains Connolly.

The sub-projects involve communities through a community-contracting model designed to build upon the strengths of the existing clan system and the localized nature of politics. This approach has helped reduce the social stigma attached to manual labour found among Somali people - leading to more men being willing to carry out manual work within the context of joining a community effort rather than working as "hired labour" for a contractor.

Employment-intensive infrastructure (EII) projects are used to engage communities often in the absence of any other form of local authority or organisation. With a typical EII project, 40 to 60 per cent of the project funds are ploughed into the local communities in wages and income, which immediately stimulates the local economy and impacts directly on livelihoods.

In the Sanag region, which was badly affected by drought, men and women from four villages, were involved in road improvement works. The project was the largest source of formal employment in the Sanag region. Nearly 60,000 workdays of employment were created over a period of 12 months, and US$300,000 injected into the communities as incomes. Other examples include communities around the Sinujief River that were involved in works to divert the river flow back to its original course on the Nugal plain. The number of workdays of employment created was 6,100. As a result of the river's diversion, grazing areas have been restored.

"Employment is a critical factor in any social reintegration. It can act as a neutral forum to bring people together. The ILO project is designed around a post-conflict model successfully used in other conflict-afflicted countries, including Mozambique and Cambodia", explains Connolly.

According to Connolly, a major achievement of the ILO's work in Somalia has been the development of a Somali Local Economic Development (LED) Model that is gradually being accepted by local authorities, donors and implementation agencies as a viable means of supporting both short-term interventions and long-term development.

The ASIST Regional Programme for Africa established in 1991 to promote and support employment-intensive investment approaches in the infrastructure sector provides technical advisory support, information and training to African governments, regional economic communities and their development partners. Areas of intervention include policy and institutional framework development, strategic regional, national and local programming and planning support, capacity building for public and private sector, and knowledge and skills development.

The programme is currently supporting a flagship US$3 billion employment-intensive infrastructure investment programme in the region, the South African Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP).

As noted by Thabo Mbeki, the President of South Africa at the launch of the EPWP in May 2004, "an important element of this programme is a large-scale expansion of the use of labour-intensive construction methods to build, upgrade and maintain the social and economic infrastructure in all the underdeveloped rural and urban areas of our country that do not have such infrastructure".

According to Connolly, "the demand for support on employment-intensive investment interventions is growing as African leaders look to create employment and wealth through investment in infrastructure. Many countries in the region are seeking to maximize the impact on poverty of their investment in infrastructure and employment-intensive approaches enable just that". Employment-intensive approaches have successfully been applied in urban and rural infrastructure provision and maintenance, including roads, irrigation, reforestation, soil and water management, slum upgrading, drainage, sanitation and waste management.

With ILO support, the Government of Kenya will host the 11th Regional Seminar for Labour-based Practitioners from 2-7 October 2005. Kenya boasts a long and rich history of the development and application of labour-based technology, having been a pioneer in the application in the early 1970s. The meeting seeks to encourage sharing of knowledge and experience on the innovative application of integrated labour-based approaches.

"Employment influences attitudes, hearts and minds", concludes Connolly. "The psychological value is enormous. Ordinary people just want a means to support their families and live in dignity."

Note 1 - Advisory Support Information Services and Training for Employment-Intensive Infrastructure.