Posts Tagged ‘aid’

Aid failures in Afghanistan

March 25, 2008

I feel more like banging my head against a mud wall than posting anything here today. But while I do that, your own time might be more productively spent reading this:

KABUL (Reuters) – Peace in Afghanistan is undermined by Western nations’ failure to deliver promised aid and 40 percent of funds that do reach the country return to the West in profits and salaries, aid agencies said on Tuesday.

Afghanistan relies on international aid for 90 percent of its spending as it tries to rebuild state institutions shattered by nearly 30 years of war and at the same time fight off a renewed Taliban insurgency that killed 6,000 people last year.

Foreign spending on aid and development is dwarfed by that spent on international military operations in Afghanistan.

The U.S. military alone now spends some $100 million a day fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, but spending on aid by all donors since 2001 amounts to only $7 million a day.

“Given the links between development and security, the effectiveness of aid also has a major impact on peace and stability,” the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR) said in a report.

“Yet thus far aid has been insufficient and in many cases wasteful and ineffective,” said ACBAR, an umbrella group for non-governmental organizations working in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan received just $57 per capita in aid in the two years after international intervention, compared to $679 a head in Bosnia and $233 in East Timor, it said.

The international community has pledged to spend some $25 billion on reconstruction and development in Afghanistan.

But, the report said, “just $15 billion in aid has so far been spent, of which it is estimated a staggering 40 percent has returned to donor countries in corporate profits and salaries.”

While there are problems delivering development to Afghanistan due to poor security, government corruption and the ability of the country to absorb aid, major donors have fallen far behind on their pledges, ACBAR said.

The United States, by far the biggest donor, has paid out only half of the $10 billion it committed in aid to Afghanistan for the period 2002-2008, the Asia Development Bank and India only a third of their pledged assistance for the same period.

Two-thirds of international assistance to Afghanistan bypasses the Afghan government, undermining the rebuilding of its state institutions, the report said. International donors also do not coordinate well among themselves and with the Afghan government on where their money goes.

“The Afghan government says it does not have information on how one-third of all assistance since 2001 was spent — some $5 billion,” the report said.

ACBAR called on donors to increase spending on development and humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, fulfill their pledges of aid, coordinate spending more effectively and channel more funds through the Afghan government.

By Jon Hemming.

For the executive summary and link to the full report from Oxfam and ACBAR, see here.

Incidentally, this isn’t the reason why I want to bang my head against a wall, but it will give me something to think about while I do so.


Reading cars

February 17, 2008


I’ve got a bit of a thing about cars. It’s a purely academic thing I hasten to add, not some strange fetish. There’s a lot to be learnt from such seemingly mundane things.

All the shiny new Afghan National Police vehicles are Fords. Apart from these, I haven’t seen a single Ford vehicle anywhere in Afghanistan. Now, I don’t know about the relative merits of different makes, but it’s always struck me as odd that the police would choose a type of car for which there will be few if any spare parts available locally, nor the expertise to fix them, making running costs that much higher. And odd that the huge contract for supplying the police with thousands of new vehicles should go to a major American company, rather than to an Indian or Japanese one say.

Every car on Kabul’s roads tells a story, often linked to that of the country. There’s a beaten-up, rusty orange VW camper van parked up round the corner. I like to imagine it’s a relic from when Afghanistan was on the hippy trail, abandoned between Europe and India when its original owners got lost in an opium-induced haze. Then there are the solid Russian jeeps, left over from the Soviet occupation, that look so bone-jarringly uncomfortable to drive.

The latest layer of vehicle imports points to the years of war since that VW pulled up here. Little Canadian flags adorn the back of many private cars. Others have their Afghan number plates screwed on over what can still be made out as the original German markings. Large numbers of the cars on Kabul’s roads today have been imported by the Afghan diaspora: refugees in Germany or Canada shipping home old, but here still valuable commodities.

There is a marked preference to Toyotas (a fact that first got me thinking about those police Fords), from yellow taxis to the white Land Cruisers of international organisations. The latter are often cited as a source of resentment for many Afghans, a sign of where all that aid money has gone. Moreover, rather hard and fast signs that are liable to send the supposed beneficiaries of that aid money – Afghans – jumping for cover (though to be fair they are driven no worse than any car on these streets). They are so obvious a sign that many organisations now prefer not to use them, trying instead to keep a lower profile.

Such is the symbolism of these cars that one academic, Kurt Mills, has called them the ‘postmodern tank of the humanitarian international,’ having replaced the tank as the photogenic sign of war, and Western governments’ response to war. He notes the irony of the Land Cruiser being “a symbol of Western profligacy and excess, and [which] simultaneously represents the Western response to war and desperation in the developing world. The Land Cruisers found in this conflict habitat are invariably white, thus representing the white hats of the good guys coming to the rescue” (2006: 263). In a blog that attracted some interesting comments, Hugo Slim described them as “emblematic of the international aid industry – its power, its presence, its gifts and its opportunities.”

Cars are much more than just symbols though. In many conflict zones around the world there has been an increasing number of attacks on aid workers and their shiny white vehicles. There is widespread concern that this is in part due to a blurring of the boundaries between ‘military’ and ‘civil’ actors. In Afghanistan for instance, the NATO led Provincial Reconstruction Teams – a controversial merging of security and development concerns, of ‘civil’ and military – have used unmarked white Toyotas to transport military personnel, much to the ire of others who see these cars as the preserve, and symbol, of ‘humanitarians.’

One could argue, if you accept Mills’ argument that Land Cruisers are the West’s new tanks, that such attacks are justified: that the boundary between humanitarianism and political and military interventions no longer exists. Something to think about while driving along at any rate.

Cars are also very social (or anti-social) things. On one of the first days I was in Afghanistan I, being a true gentleman of course, got out of the front seat of the car to offer it to my female boss. But no, this wasn’t the done thing. For it would have meant a woman sitting next to a male driver when there was no need, there being space for her (and others of her gender) in the back. If there were just one female and several male passengers, the woman would then have the excitement of sitting in the front, this being deemed less bad than sitting with other male passengers in the back. Every day before getting into a vehicle, thought must be given to the appropriate seating arrangements. As the old anthropological adage has it (sort of), cars are good to think with.