Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, January 15th, 2021

Quantitative and Qualitative Review of International Aid in Afghanistan

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Quantitative and Qualitative Review of International Aid in Afghanistan

In recent days, the international community has renewed their aid with pledging around $12 billion over four coming years while restricted their money to various conditions such as ceasefire, serious fighting against corruption, civil rights protection and so on.  The officials welcomed the aid renewal calling it as success, but the Afghan people, especially the intellectual community does not look excited about the recent $12 billion aid announcement.  It seems that the cold public position about the latest aid is rooted in poor feedback of aid in last two decades.  In fact, the largest financial contributions to Afghanistan in the contemporary history of the world ended up with disastrous feedback. After 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars aid flowed into Afghanistan, Afghans still suffer from a lack of basic services and infrastructure. For example, the capital of Afghanistan still does not have access to stable electricity and a proper sewerage system. Thus, a light rain and snow fall can be disastrous for the people of Kabul because it can flood most of the city’s roads and alleys.
Accordingly, if we go out of Kabul and look around the country, the issue of minimal service becomes even more catastrophic. Thousands of children are deprived of the most basic educational facilities across the country. Thousands of pregnant mothers do not have access to basic health care. Thousands of children in remote parts of Afghanistan and even in the neighborhood of Kabul use the shade of mulberries and sycamore or rock and stone as a classroom to be educated away from the scorching sun. Drinking water is not available to a large number of Afghans. Tens of thousands of Afghan farmers and landowners still use the primitive agricultural system.
The statistics of mothers in need of health services, children in need of food and malnutrition, students in need of the most basic educational facilities and tens of different social and age classes are not less than one million each. And over all, nearly 90% of Afghan people fell below poverty line as the president recently confessed.
Given the abovementioned feedback, people are righteous to show such cold position about the new aid pledged through Geneva conference. In fact, they have already been disappointed with many unanswered questions. For example, why the billions of dollars could not bring any fundamental changes in the country? Why the level of poverty unexpectedly increased up to 90% in the country while Afghanistan has successively received billions of dollars through similar conferences.  During the first decade of new Afghanistan, In 2002, the Tokyo conference pledged 5.4 Billion dollars for five years; in 2004, the Berlin conference pledged 8 billion$ for three years; in 2006, the London conference pledged 10 billion$; in 2008, Afghanistan requested 50 billion$ in which only the US pledged 10 billion$ while others such as France and Germany also doubled their aid. Where did go all these money?
In the second decade of post Taliban government, the international community has also generously continued their aid in the country. For example; in 2012, the second Tokyo conference pledged 16 billion$ for four years while Afghanistan also committed to fight against administrative corruption and effective exploitation from the aid. In 2016, the Brussels conference pledged more than 15 billion$ with Afghanistan’s re-commitment to fight against administrative corruption and effective spending of the aid. Afghanistan also received billions of marginal aid while there are no big changes in the ground except some leaders and government officials built some luxurious building and gained some personal wealth.  Still 90% of people are suffering from severe poverty and food shortage in the country. Therefore, the people of Afghanistan seems frustrated as if the trillions dollar since 2001 up to date has made no big changes in the country, the latest $12 billion will neither bring any fundamental changes in the country.
According to experts, there are different factors why trillions of dollars could not produce expected result in last two decades.  Seemingly, the first the main reason was corruption; only in 2016, the amount of bribery or corruption was announced around 3 billion$. However, there have seen some superficial efforts and fighting against corruptions but the root of corruption is far stronger to be rooted out that easily. As the second factor, there are a lot questions about quality of the aid as it was repeatedly said that around 40% of the aid money spent in Afghanistan has found its way back to rich donor countries such as corporate profits, consultants’ salaries and other costs, significantly inflating the cost of projects. This allegation was more serious during, Hamed Karzai, the former president of the country. Thus, it was estimated that two-thirds of foreign assistance bypassed the Afghan government, which undermines efforts to build effective state institutions, especially at sub-national level. It has been always of great concern that there appears to be a lack of political will to tackle high level corruption. During former president, Hamed Karzai and even in recent years, it was frequently heard that the government has no open hand to spend the money based on national priority.
In general, the impact of assistance to Afghanistan is heavily affected by the wider social, economic, legal, security and political environment; therefore, reforms are required in many spheres in order to maximize aid effectiveness. New aids, pledged 12bn$, can bring significant difference to Afghan lives, but the aforementioned challenges can severely effect on quality of aid. It is high time that donors and the Afghan government should honestly carry out their historic responsibilities to enhance the aid effectiveness. The Donors should spend aid through Afghan government programs but ensure the quality and ultimate objective of reducing poverty, quality education, demand-driven and accountable to Afghan citizens.

Mohammad Zahir Akbari is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammadzahirakbari@gmail.com

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