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pdf Public Works: Don't! Popular

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Public works are a popular social protection instrument throughout southern Africa. They can be effective as a response to transient or cyclical crises, by smoothing consumption and preventing the distress selling of assets. But programmes offering short term employment opportunities may not work so well in situations of chronic poverty. Even their main advocates, such as the World Bank, admit that "public works are essentially a temporary safety net and should never be used as a permanent escape route from poverty"1. Yet donors, including the World Bank and DFID, continue to advocate and support them, claiming unattainable goals such as "enhanced livelihoods for the poor people of Malawi2". Why?

This Comment draws heavily on the excellent, comprehensive and more nuanced paper by Anna McCord "Win-win or Lose? An Examination of the Use of Public Works as a Social Protection Instrument in Situations" of Chronic Poverty (2005).

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