Oxfam calls on donors to overhaul aid policy

Billions of dollars of international aid money spent on rebuilding, development and humanitarian efforts over the past six years have contributed to social and economic progress, but the process has been “too centralised, top-heavy and insufficient”, British charity organisation Oxfam International, said on 31 January.

“It [the rebuilding and development process] has been prescriptive and supply-driven, rather than indigenous and responding to Afghan needs,” Oxfam said in a report on the second anniversary of the Afghanistan Compact - a joint multi-year framework approved in London on 31 January 2006 by the Afghan government and international donors to help bring about a stable, developed and democratic Afghanistan.

Two years on, many of the Compact’s objectives are unmet and too many commitments remain unfulfilled, Oxfam said.

Matt Waldman, policy and advocacy adviser for Oxfam in Kabul, told IRIN that since 2002 over US$15 billion in aid had been disbursed in Afghanistan, though donors had pledged to provide $25 billion by the end of 2007.

“Ten billion dollars is a substantial shortfall,” said Waldman, adding that donors should do more to deliver their commitments to Afghanistan - the fifth least developed country in the world.

Despite over six years of multilateral rebuilding and development efforts, many Afghans still suffer severe hardships comparable with sub-Saharan Africa, due to poor aid effectiveness, Oxfam said.

“Major change” needed

In a separate letter addressed to donors, Oxfam called for a “major change” in aid policy vis-à-vis Afghanistan in order to reduce human suffering and “avert humanitarian disaster”.

Photo: Akmal Dawi/IRIN
International donors and organisations have spent over US$15 billion on rebuilding, development and humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan over the past six years. A banner in Kabul city shows a number of donors commemorating Youth Day

Major donors such as the USA should use development - not solely military means - to tackle growing insurgency in rural Afghanistan because “development and security are inextricably connected”, Oxfam said. “Military action addresses symptoms, not underlying causes or conditions.”

According to Oxfam, the US military spends $65,000 a minute in Afghanistan ($35 billion for 2007). By contrast, agriculture, which is the main source of livelihood for over 70 percent of Afghanistan’s population (estimated at 26.6 million) has received about $300-400 million in direct assistance since 2002.

International donors should refrain from relying on short-term fixes while dealing with conflict resolution and development in Afghanistan. They should engage in long-term, sustainable and comprehensive endeavors instead, Oxfam advised.

Lack of coordination

Insufficient coordination among international donors and the Afghan government badly affected aid effectiveness in the country, Oxfam said in November 2007.

Furthermore, the misuse of funds and corruption in aid disbursements have often been worrying factors about which Afghan officials, including President Hamid Karzai, have increasingly raised concerns.

“Weak coordination, corruption and aid mismanagement are also major problems,” said Waldman. “Donors and the government of Afghanistan should adopt greater measures to ensure transparency and improve coherence,” he said.

Oxfam also urged donors to promote Afghan ownership of development arrangements, saying that local institutions should be helped to play a greater and more meaningful role in building peace in the country.