Improving lives and reducing violence through provision of services

How can the provision of services and economic opportunities reduce violence and improve lives? A high-level roundtable organised by the IDS Addressing and Mitigating Violence (AMV) research team on 12 January 2015 explored the complex links between poverty, violence, insecurity and the provision of services, drawing on four case studies from within Nairobi, Mumbai, and Kathmandu.

What is the effect of government transfers on civil unrest?

Can government expenditure be used to mitigate unrest and prevent civil violence? Patricia Justino, IDS Conflict Cluster leader and Research Fellow, explores solutions to the violence-poverty trap through the provision of services in India. In recent years, social discontent has been manifested across the world through food riots, the Arab Spring and Occupy movement. At the roundtable, Justino highlighted that there has been a rise in inequality. She observes that India experiences extremely high levels of riots and that the cost of such civil unrest is very high.

Justino interrogates what can be done to address social discontent before it becomes problematic. She sees the state to be a key actor in addressing conflict and believes that there is an opportunity for governments to intervene before riots escalate. Government policies and cash transfer programmes can have immediate effects on mitigating conflict. Yet, there is not enough data to analyse civil unrest across countries and there is little evidence on the impact of different kinds of government policies and their relation to reducing violence. However, evidence from India shows that government expenditure is highly relevant for mitigating civil unrest and it is therefore critical to explore further how public services can help to reduce violence.

What is the role of non-state actors in the provision of services to reduce violence and insecurity?

Government and state institutions are important actors in providing access to resources, economic opportunities, and avenues for building human capital. However, the AMV researchers show that this is much more complex and that a range of actors, (including armed gangs, local vigilantes and other non-governmental groups including NGOs and citizens’ groups) play significant roles in organising themselves to fill the void left by government failure. An inability to distribute access equitably can result in resentment leading to conflict and violence. Conversely providing citizens with access to these services has been found to reduce violence and insecurity.

Becky Mitchell, IDS Research Officer, provided insights about the programme experience with the partner organisation CHRIPS in Kenya, pointing out that there is need for a more complex approach to address violence. Widespread violence in Nairobi and the failure of the state to provide services has enabled criminal gangs to take control. Such gangs are not always violent, in fact, ex-militia have set up groups to engage in micro vending and sport activities for young people.

Jaideep Gupte, IDS Research Fellow, emphasised that urban police forces in India have often undertaken militarised responses to urban crime and that very little is done to engage with non-state actors. Gupte claims that violence is a tool, instrumentalised by non-state actors as well as governments. However, both actors are likely to be involved in mitigating violence. In the urban context, core statutory institutions are not communicating with non-state actors that are involved in violence. Gupte claims that it is crucial to get a better understanding of how non-state actors can be involved in the provision of services to mitigate violence.

Jean Pierre-Tranchant, IDS Research Fellow, presented lessons from Maharashtra on making the urban poor safer. He claims that there is a link between vulnerability and the experience of violence. Most of the violence occurs in slums as there is a lack of security provisions and police presence in slums. His research shows that there is a link between the lack of service provision, the lack of employment, violence and crime. Slum dwellers make the link between vulnerability and conflict automatically. Therefore, community led initiatives are needed and slum dwellers’ participation in the process is essential. Policies that seek to alleviate urban vulnerabilities and violence must be informed by local realities and knowledge of the informal arrangements that work.

Julia Hamaus is an IDS Gender Convenor and supports the research uptake work of the IDS Addressing and Mitigating Violence programme.

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