Afghan peace hurt by failed aid pledges: agencies
By Jon Hemming
March 25, 2008
KABUL (Reuters) – Peace in Afghanistan is being undermined by the failure of Western nations to deliver promised assistance, 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 with $679 a head in Bosnia and $233 in East Timor, it said.
“$10 BILLION SHORTFALL”
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 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. Donors also do not coordinate well among themselves and with the Afghan government, the report said.
Afghanistan called for funds to be channeled through government coffers.
“The Afghan government has always said that implementing and funding projects through non-governmental resources costs much more and relying on international experts does not lead to money coming into the country but in fact the money is sent out,” said Afghan presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada.
Fears of Afghan official corruption soaking up donor funds may be misplaced, analysts say, as countries such as Britain and Japan that support the government directly, channel assistance through an independently audited World Bank trust fund.
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.
But the European Commission said the ACBAR report miscalculated the aid commitment and distribution figures.
“We are delivering at the moment, there is no backlog, there is no delay, shortfall or lagging behind,” EC spokeswoman Christiane Hohmann told a regular news briefing in Brussels.
She said criticisms of aid efficiency were already being addressed: “We know there is always room for improvement and donors are working on that,” she said, adding that one of the problems was the low absorption capacity of the government.
The maximum figure for Commission spending on technical assistance through NGOs that did not stay in the country was 30 percent, Hohmann said.
“If you go to a country that needs to be rebuilt from scratch, you need to import that knowledge and the expertise, and of course that doesn’t come free of charge,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi in Kabul and David Brunnstrom in Brussels; Editing by Bill Tarrant)