How would you reduce aid dependence?

Lofa County, in Liberia’s northwest, is the most densely packed NGO circus in the country. The road leading into town is lined with with the telltale signs: dozens of tall-walled lots topped with razor wire, the tips of radio antennas adorning the dozen white Land Cruisers just visible through the sharpened coils.

Most do an excellent job, but maybe too good a job.

I’m spending a lot of time in isolated villages, pre-testing our survey instrument. If you ask a villager who bears the most responsibility for building public latrines and wells, eight times out of ten you’ll hear, “the NGOs”. After five years of intense humanitarian aid, have people forgotten how to provide their own public goods?

Maybe not. The white guy in the funny hat undoubtedly hears a select message. But nary a self-built latrine or town hall can be found. This could be grounds for a next project: can we cure the patient of NGO-itis?

But what to do? Incentives? Demonstration villages? The so-called “sensitization”? Suggestions welcome…