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February 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 2)
Monumental Task of Reconstruction
Iqbal, Inter Press Service (international news agency), Rome,
Italy, Nov. 28, 2001
after two decades of war must be done with respect for local
needs and desires, and must be a long-term commitment, aid and
development experts say. Dr. Paul Oquist of the United Nations
Development Program warned against quick fixes and
donor fatigue, arguing that there should be a post-war
concept of special institutions and resources over a considerable
period of time.
young Afghan refugee at a camp in Pakistan, Oct. 8, 2002
But in helping reconstruct Afghanistan, donor agencies and governments
must take care to let Afghans shape their own future.
I did not come to this conference to tell you how the
World Bank and other donors are going to rebuild Afghanistan,
Mieko Nishimizu, World Bank vice president, told an ongoing
meeting of international donor agencies, some governments, and
Afghan aid and other groups.
How dare we think about rebuilding Afghanistan without
listening to the sovereign people? he argued.
Oquist said Afghanistan can look to other countries, such as
post-war Japan and Germany as good examples of countries that
were able to transform destroyed industrial infrastructure into
an opportunity to construct modern, competitive economic and
industrial infrastructure, he added.
Afghanistan does not have a government apparatus, but that can
be transformed into an opportunity to create a modern, participatory,
and responsive state.
The Islamabad meeting to discuss the reconstruction of the social
and economic infrastructure in war-ravaged Afghanistan began
on Nov. 27, parallel to a meeting in Germany on the countrys
future political dispensation. Of the more than 300 participants
at the meeting here, a majority are Afghans belonging to NGOs,
the assistance community, and nongovernmental groups. None are
from the tribal mujahideen groups.
The three-day conference is part of a three-pronged international
strategy to reconstruct the country by bringing in competent
political leadership, cooperation among different donor agencies,
and financial funding. The meetings on reconstruction assistance
to Afghanistan started in Washington on Nov. 20, which the United
States and Japan co-chaired. From Islamabad, the process went
Estimates by international bureaucrats here put reconstruction
efforts in Afghanistan at up to US$10 billion. How donor agencies
respond and whether the manner is inclusive of local needs and
aspirations will have to be seen in the months and years ahead.
In recent years, international assistance to Afghanistan has
totaled $200 to $300 million annually. It has gone overwhelmingly
to humanitarian relief purposes, much of it in the form of food
aid. Most has been channeled through the [U.N.s] Annual
Afghanistan Appeal, together with periodic drought appeals.
The most recent example is the much larger Donor Alert and appeal
for $584 million for the period October 2001 to March 2002,
announced in late September 2001.
So far, funding has come from numerous donors, the largest of
which has been the United States, followed by the European Union.
Most international assistance to Afghanistan is delivered by
NGOs. There are about 40 sizable NGOs with annual spending of
$1 million or more each, along with other smaller entities.
Much aid passes through U.N. agencies to implementing NGOs,
although the larger and more reputable groups, mostly international
NGOs, attract substantial direct donor funding.
In the absence of an effectively functioning government, service
delivery, or leadership, NGOs have over the years become the
main actors in areas such as primary education (especially for
girls), rural water supply, basic health units, and demining.
A World Bank paper says Afghanistans economic situation
has regional spillover effectsthrough unofficial trade,
narcotics, terrorism and extremism, financial flows, and movements
of people. These spillover effects have undermined revenue collection,
governance, and the effectiveness of economic policies in neighboring
countries, particularly Pakistan. It is therefore expected that
the neighboring countries would also be the beneficiaries of
the rebuilding process.
But none of the six countries around Afghanistan, including
the host Pakistan, have been invited to the meeting and most
speakers are either international bureaucrats or development
specialists, in what some said looked like an effort to stay
away from politics.
Yoshihiro Iwasaki, an Asian Development Bank director, said
that in recent weeks, the Manila-based bank has had discussions
with member governments, especially with those of the directly
affected economies, including the Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan,
Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
Rehabilitation and reconstruction will require a long-term
approach for all the neighboring countries, he said. Expecting
that the huge rehabilitation exercise next door would boost
the countrys struggling economy, the Pakistan government
has already prepared the business community to be ready to participate
in the reconstruction work.
Already, Pakistan has provided wheat to the World Food Program
on credit and now is poised to offer its expertise on building
irrigation infrastructure and clearing landmines in Afghanistan.
The clearance of landmines from all mine-contaminated areas
alone could cost as much as $500 million.
But beyond physical reconstruction efforts, a World Bank paper
said: Reconstruction cannot be separated from longer-term
economic and social development. Merely restoring the
pre-1979 economic situation would still leave the country one
of the poorest in the world. This would make the task of maintaining
political stability and promoting national integration very
difficult and would leave Afghanistan highly vulnerable to resurgence
Population growth since the 1970s means that the pre-existing
economic base and infrastructure could not support the current
population if most refugees return, the paper pointed
So reconstruction will need to be combined with a massive
development effort: Education and health, which never reached
most of the population, will need to be greatly expanded,
Afghanistans agricultural production base has to be able
to support more people, and roads and infrastructure must be
repaired to reach inaccessible parts of the country.
Another issue is that over the years, the difference between
development and humanitarian activities has become blurred.
One of the biggest problems of the last 10 years has been the
high overhead costs paid by donors to deliver aid, so future
programs must involve as few international staff as possible.
This would mean extensive management and control by Afghansand
development assistance aimed at building the capacity of Afghans
to run these programs. But doing economic and social reconstruction
work in Afghanistan will not be easy, even for major donors.