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Sky News, June 19, 2008

Life Still Tough In 'New Afghanistan'

Women in burqas beg on the streets. It is a regular sight in the capital, Kabul now. They didn't dream life would be like this in the new Afghanistan.

Alex Crawford

Freedom from the Taliban regime has meant many more are being educated and for girls who were banned from school, that is progress.

Children can fly their kites, the people of Afghanistan can listen to their radios and watch television without fearing a visit from the Ministry of Vice and Virtue. Men don't have to grow beards.

Malalai Joya
Malalali Joya: "Our Government is undemocratic. We have a mafia system where drug lords and war lords are in power with the mask of democracy.

But for many citizens of this, one of the poorest countries on the planet, life is still exceedingly tough and it is no exaggeration to say they have a daily struggle to survive.

"We were promised so much", says Mardi Gul as she tears up bits of cardboard to light her fire.

"But President Karzai hasn't done much for us. We are very disappointed in him. We don't have a good place to live. Our men don't have jobs and our lives are very miserable."

Time and time again when we spoke to ordinary Afghans they expressed the same sentiment. No jobs, no money and hope fading fast.

The key indicators of progress here are still challenging. More than half of the country is officially classified as living in poverty. The life expectancy is under 50. It has one of the highest levels of malnutrition in the world.

The health statistics are even more alarming. There's been small progress but the numbers are still shocking. One in five children will die before they are five. One in nine women will die during or shortly after giving birth.

These are statistics which rank amongst the highest anywhere.

Afghanistan has had decades of conflict and there is still an insurgency which appears alive and well in the country despite the presence of thousands of international troops.

But for those living here there is a sense they expected more. Most of these illiterate people know about the billions of dollars and pounds pouring in from around the world.

They want to know why they aren't seeing any of it. Most believe it is going straight into the pockets of Government officials.

There's a street in Wazir Akbar Khan which is known locally as an example of Narcatecture - built from the proceeds of drug money.

Whether it is right or not there's a perception among ordinary people that powerful people are still running the opium and heroin drug industry here and getting rich on the back of it.

Malalai Joya is less careful with her accusations. She is 30 and an MP - one of the band of women now enshrined in the constitution as having 'equal rights' who won a seat in the last election.

But for the past few months she has been expelled for calling most of her fellow MPs corrupt and for demanding more adherence to human rights and women's rights.

"Afghanistan cannot be rebuilt with corrupt people," she says.

"Our Government is undemocratic. We have a mafia system where drug lords and war lords are in power with the mask of democracy.

"After 9/11 we received $14bn from the international community for reconstruction but most of it went into the pockets of the drug lords and war lords."

Her outspoken words mean she now has to travel round incognito in a burqa, moving home from night to night and with a team of her own trusted bodyguards.

"People in my own Parliament have threatened to rape me," she says.

"They have said they will come and eliminate me if I am not silent. They don't like me calling them corrupt. I called them animals but I am sorry, this is an insult to the animals."

The key indicators of progress here are still challenging. More than half of the country is officially classified as living in poverty. The life expectancy is under 50. It has one of the highest levels of malnutrition in the world.
The health statistics are even more alarming. There's been small progress but the numbers are still shocking. One in five children will die before they are five. One in nine women will die during or shortly after giving birth.
SkyNews, June 19, 2008

She is unrepentant and fervent in her belief she must get her message out to the outside world. Trouble is, she believes many of the outside helpers are complicit in the mismanagement of the funds coming in.

She accused the many NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) of misappropriating the money themselves. And research done by a group of aid agencies calling themselves Acbar, backed this up.

The report estimated about 40% of the aid money spent in Afghanistan was going straight back to the donor countries in the form of contracts to their own nationals and the expensive salaries of the expat consultants employed.

There are countless examples of waste on a grand and shocking scale.

One is the reconstruction of the Khair Khana maternity hospital in Kabul. It was meant to double its capacity for which the Italian Government contracted the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

According to Kabul Press who investigated it, UNFPA were given $2.2m for the work which was sub-contracted to the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS), again sub-contracted to an Italian organisation, who in turn sub-contracted to an Afghan construction company.

Less than half the total money is thought to have been spent on the actual building. The result is a crumbling shambles of a building with tiles buckling, cement creasing and walls with large holes in them.

A huge amount of the aid is sucked away by the costs of high salaries, living, security, transport and accommodation costs for expatriates, according to Acbar.

The group worked out the total cost of each full-time expat consultant working in private consulting companies is in the region of $250,000 per year - that is sometimes 200 times the average annual salary of an Afghan civil servant who is paid less than $1,000.

"It is a shocking waste of money," says one of the management team at Khair Khana.

They have been very reluctant to let us film here fearing repercussions.

"Tell her it is nothing to do with us. We are just Afghans," they tell my interpreter.

"It was the foreigners who took the money."

For those living in squalor in the old Russian apartments across the city, there's anger and frustration at the lack of help.

Samar Gul has just given birth - on the floor of a filthy room where a carpet caked with dust and mud has been thrown.

Her baby boy Hafta is one day old and very sleepy.

"He is not feeding," she says.

"I can't produce milk. What life can I offer him? His father is poor and he will be poor too."

She is exhausted and desperate. She has five other little ones and knows her baby may not survive. Her last didn't. He died at four days old.

Her husband, Musafar Khan collects scrap iron to sell. He says he makes about 50 Afghanis a day, that's about 50p, if he's having a good day.

He needs to buy about 3.5kg of flour a day for just 10 naan to feed his seven-strong family (plus baby) and that costs 160 Afghanis (about £1.50).

You don't need to be in one of the country's new educational establishments to work out that doesn't compute.

"All these ministers are taking the (international) money," he says.

"They are the ones living in big houses and they are giving no money to the poor people. Right now I have no flour and no money in my house."

Life for many people in the new Afghanistan is not much different from the old.

Category: Warlords, Taliban/ISIS/Terrorism, Women, HR Violations, Poverty, Corruption, Healthcare/Environment - Views: 14033


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