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Public Works and Social Protection in Southern Africa

Do Public Works Work for the Poor?

By Anna Gabriele McCord

Public Works Programs (PWPs) are widely implemented throughout Asia, Latin America, and Africa, often with funding from major international donor agencies. They are perceived to present a “win-win” policy option, providing employment to the chronically poor while also creating assets for the state, and in this way offering a welfare transfer which is also a tangible economic investment.

The prevailing view among donors and government agencies with responsibility for social protection is that PWPs are preferable to other measures designed to assist unemployed people living in chronic poverty. But is this view correct? This book critically explores the concept of the PWP and investigates its social protection performance in the context of chronic poverty. It reviews over 200 PWPs in eastern and southern Africa using original research drawn from extensive field analysis, interviews, and survey work. It also examines case studies of six international PWPs in India, Argentina, Ireland, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and the United States.

Anna Gabriele McCord explores the function and limitations of PWPs and outlines major program choice and design issues. She draws lessons from the international context and challenges the assumptions underlying these policy preferences, thus opening the way for more informed and appropriate policy selection. The book makes a case for reconsidering the function of PWPs in the current social protection discourse and argues that the current approach may not look so attractive from the beneficiary perspective.

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