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AFP, October 5, 2009

Link Afghan aid to progress: agencies

Aid workers in Kabul said that up to one-third of US aid money to Afghanistan had stayed in the United States, supporting the home offices of organisations granted development projects

By Lynne O'Donnell

Eight years after the fall of the Taliban ushered in a new era for Afghanistan, the country remains a black hole for foreign aid donors who have seen little development for their money.

Western governments have poured 20 billion dollars into Afghanistan since late 2001 but perceptions of waste are compounding hardening public attitudes to the increasing numbers of coalition military deaths.

A foreign military officer said that much of the war-torn country was mired "in the Stone Age", with even the capital Kabul lacking basic infrastructure. Huge private homes -- nicknamed "poppy palaces" -- are seen as evidence of how much drug-related money is sloshing around Afghanistan's black economy, said a former US diplomat in Kabul.
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Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International rates Afghanistan as the world's fifth most corrupt country, alongside its status as the fifth poorest.
AFP, Oct. 5, 2009

A foreign military officer said that much of the war-torn country was mired "in the Stone Age", with even the capital Kabul lacking basic infrastructure.

Huge private homes -- nicknamed "poppy palaces" -- are seen as evidence of how much drug-related money is sloshing around Afghanistan's black economy, said a former US diplomat in Kabul.

The August 20 presidential election, still unresolved amid fraud allegations levelled at the Western-backed incumbent Hamid Karzai, lifted the lid on the extent of corruption.

Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International rates Afghanistan as the world's fifth most corrupt country, alongside its status as the fifth poorest.

Washington has reportedly endorsed a suggestion by the head of NATO to link aid to progress in eradicating graft.

The head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, said last week that development cash should go to areas where violence is low or non-existent.

"No doubt we will need further economic development in the south but the main economic engines are not there," Britan's Guardian newspaper quoted Eide as saying.

"If we just pour resources into areas that don't have impact we are not going to see the national economic progress that we need."

Karzai's office refused to comment on the proposed aid-corruption link.

US, British and other European opinion polls suggest falling support for the war, as the international community tries to make Afghanistan work by changing tack on the military, political and civil fronts.

Amid calls for more troops, US diplomats talk of a "civilian surge".

Washington's embassy in Kabul is set to almost double to 750 people by year's end, as emphasis shifts to grassroots development involving Afghans, from big, foreign-run projects.

"We have a long history of trying to improve the way things are done and reduce the opportunity for corruption, and this remains part of the greater strategic interest," a US official in Kabul said on condition of anonymity.

The UN has set up an office to coordinate the 1.8 billion dollars that comes into Afghanistan each year, said Mark Ward, special adviser on development to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

"We think about 20 billion dollars had come in by 2008," he said. "Some of it is very good -- children in schools, public health, road building.

"But a lot of it went for projects that are not sustainable because they are not part of the government's plan, because there was no plan."

His office now works to link donors with ministries with a clear development plan, he added.

Washington's international aid arm, USAID, points to successes in reducing infant mortality, increasing access to healthcare and encouraging enterprise, particularly among women, since 2001.

But the country director of the Foundation for Open Society Institute Afghanistan said the post-Taliban era has been marked by inefficient use of aid.

"Aid effectiveness has not been regular because funding mostly goes to short-term projects instead of long-term master plans," Nilofar Sakhi told AFP.

"The short-term projects have no continuity or sustainability," she said, and recipients are not rigorously assessed.

Aid workers in Kabul said that up to one-third of US aid money to Afghanistan had stayed in the United States, supporting the home offices of organisations granted development projects.

Up to another third went on in-country overheads, including security costs, and much disappeared in commissions as projects were sub-contracted.

"Down-scaling will allow more of the money to remain in Afghanistan as local companies can compete for smaller projects," a Western aid executive said on condition of anonymity.

Ward said Afghan firms have been excluded from projects as they do not have the experience to handle expensive, large-scale projects.

"The civilian surge can help because it can push the US to more and smaller opportunities," he said.

"It's not too late. It has worked in some sectors already, and so if we just keep helping the government come up with strong initiatives, I'm sure we can get donors to support those plans."

"We just need to have the government keep coming up with solid plans."

Category: Warlords, HR Violations, Corruption - Views: 6977