Digging holes and filling them in again? How far do public works enhance livelihoods?

Briefing papers
November 2008

Public works are of two broad kinds: short-term measures respond to a one-off shock (such as drought or flooding); longer-term measures respond to persistent cyclical events such as shortage of work opportunities in e.g. the agricultural off-season. In some cases, short term measures are used in response to persistent events in the hope that even brief employment may be sufficient to enable ‘graduation’ from poverty. It has been argued that PWPs, whether short- or longer-term, can impact on livelihoods promotion through the wage transfer itself, the assets created , and also the skills development or work experience impact of PWP participation (McCord, 2005). Data are too limited to permit firm conclusions, but, drawing on experience with short-term measures in southern Africa and with longer-term measures in India, this paper sets out the issues and draws tentative conclusions.

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