In western Honduras, communities draw on UNDP data to improve services

Jun 7, 2010

By Amy E. Robertson

2 June 2010, San Francisco de Opalaca, Honduras — The residents of San Francisco de Opalaca, a small municipality in the remote mountains of western Honduras, have a long tradition of community organisation.  

In the 1990s, they clamoured for and obtained communal land title from which everyone benefited.  The community then identified Chagas disease as its greatest problem.  A tropical parasitic illness spread by chinches — or triatomine insects — the disease can lead to fatal heart and digestive system disorders.  

The disease’s prevalence reflected the community’s dire poverty.  Homes made of cane walls, thatch roofs and dirt floors provided ideal breeding grounds for the insects.  Wood-burning stoves were lit in houses all day, and 85 percent of the children were malnourished.  Medical care was virtually non-existent, as broken bridges and rutted roads kept health workers from reaching the village.  Travelling to another town for medical care meant three day’s walk each way. 

UNDP's comprehensive data on the status of the Millennium Development Goals in Honduras has helped the community of Opalaca to organise itself to get government assistance, improving health and living conditions (photo by Pablo Salazar Canelos)

But the challenges in approaching the central government for support forestalled a solution.  First, reaching Tegucigalpa, Honduras´s capital, required an entire day in the back of a pick-up, another day by bus, and one or two nights in a hotel.  It was a tall order for a small municipality with an even smaller budget.  Then there were bureaucratic tangles that proved difficult to penetrate.  Limited flexibility of government funds made it easy for state institutions to deny the community’s request for help.

In 2006, UNDP in Honduras began collecting data on the Millennium Development Goals by setting up three regional “observatories” with locally-based technical officers.  Regional associations and municipalities, including Opalaca, across the country got involved in the information gathering, and UNDP has since produced comprehensive reports on the state of the MDGs for 50 municipalities in Honduras’s poorest regions.

The data helped the residents of Opalaca to set their own development priorities.  The community put together a matrix of needs, including the need for improved maternal care.  Each need was linked to a Millennium Development Goal to which the Honduran Government had expressly committed.  

“This method of forming a request broke the mold”, said José Antonio Velásquez, the technical adviser for the municipality of Opalaca.  “Before we had always approached the government with simple requests without any back-up data”.

The community also found an ally in the then-Minister of Culture Rodolfo Fasquelle who, together with UNDP, encouraged the national government to convene a meeting of the country’s “Social Cabinet” — an inter-institutional body made up of representatives from 12 government agencies — in San Francisco de Opalaca. 

The meeting took place in 2007 — two years after the community first tried to contact the government for assistance — and gave a chance for the ministers to see how the Opalaca residents lived.  

The meeting eventually led to an integrated government response.  When the Ministry of Health was unable to respond fully to the community’s needs, the secretary of international cooperation volunteered to ask for ambulances — they were later provided by Taiwan and Japan.  The head of public works improved the road condition to make it easier to access the community by incorporating 8.4 kilometres of road into the plan for repair and maintenance.  UNDP helped to solicit assistance from other donors and agencies, including the World Bank which provided funds for a pediatric and maternal health clinic.

The list of achievements is lengthy, and includes significant advancements in combating the problem that stimulated the process: Chagas disease.  

“Our true task here is advocacy”, said Pablo Salazar, the observatory project coordinator with UNDP.  “We helped the local community to understand how and whom to approach in order to obtain support.  It also shows that we have to invest in information delivery”.   

For more information, contact at Sistema de Observatorios para el Seguimiento de las Metas del Milenio, Honduras

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