Rural migrants in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, are rapidly putting up makeshift houses in several fast-growing neighbourhoods where sanitation services are erratic and crime is on the rise. Much of the responsibility for planning and delivering basic services in these sprawling communities has devolved to city authorities, as a result of decentralization moves by the central Government in Tegucigalpa. To support San Pedro Sula in managing this responsibility, UNFPA in 1991 helped design a model project to provide socio-demographic information for municipal planning .
Data collected under the project have helped local authorities to understand why infant and maternal mortality remain high despite good hospital coverage, resulting in the creation of reproductive health and family planning initiatives, including a training course for midwives. Useful data have also been provided on the local spread and socio-economic impact of HIV/AIDS. Maps and demographic data are being used to upgrade the telephone system throughout northern Honduras.
The project's underlying assumptions were that: (1) more effective municipal management requires not only more resources and decision- making authority at the municipal level, but also better information on which to base decisions; (2) planning is most effective at the local level, where flexibility and inter-sectoral coordination are easier to achieve than at the federal level; and (3) NGOs and the private sector will implement projects to solve problems identified by the city, allowing officials to concentrate on providing data and analysis to guide policy-making.
In 1992, the project created a municipal statistics unit and funded 6 of its 13 staff members. The unit provided on-the-job training and developed a geographical information system, drawing maps to show, for example, how land was being used. The unit's first census revealed that the city's population was just half of what authorities had assumed, resulting in a cost-saving scaling-down of plans for a new water supply system. Annual surveys are conducted on population and social indicators; the 1994 survey focused on family health and family planning.
The statistics unit is now an executive department, overseen by the Municipal Institute for Planning and Investigation. A population and development branch carries out detailed studies on reproductive health and family planning, HIV/AIDS, the position of women and the environment; it also maintains a public library. Users of the department's services include the national phone company, the local Chamber of Commerce, UN agencies, the Ministry of Public Health and the National Census Bureau. The department has also provided research assistance to NGOs carrying out women-in-development projects.