Military drawdown could hit aid flows

The planned drawdown of US-NATO troops in Afghanistan later this year could adversely affect the flow of foreign aid to a country where the achievements since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 are still fragile, aid workers warn.

“We saw a drop in humanitarian assistance in Iraq and Kosovo after the international military forces withdrew,” Louise Hancock, a spokeswoman of Oxfam International in Afghanistan, told IRIN. “Afghanistan needs long-term support for development if it is going to become a stable and prosperous country. That requires a long-term commitment of aid.”

The Afghan army and police will begin replacing their foreign allies in July, in accordance with a transition process due to end in 2014. Most of the 140,000-plus US-NATO forces currently fighting Taliban insurgents are expected to leave the country over the next three years.

“We currently see the last spending frenzy in Afghanistan and then things will start slowing down,” said Sussane Schneidl, with NGO Tribal Liaison Office in Kabul.

Donors channel considerable amounts of aid money through the NATO-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) which are set to gradually transfer their responsibilities to the Afghan government. Aid agencies say “the militarization of aid” by NATO-member states over the past few years - in a bid to win hearts and minds - is also likely to impact donor funding priorities after foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

About US$26.7 billion in aid was disbursed in Afghanistan in 2002-2009 which made it the leading recipient of official development assistance in the world, according to the Global Humanitarian Assistance website.

US aid is predicted to drop by at least $300 million - from $4.8 billion in 2009 to $4.5 billion in 2012.

Canada’s aid to Afghanistan will go down by about 50 percent immediately after the planned withdrawal of Canadian forces in July 2011, according to the Canadian International Development Agency.

Flows of foreign aid have also been hit by allegations of corruption. The UK, for example, has delayed channeling $137.6 million to Afghanistan due to a corruption scandal at Kabul Bank, which allegedly involved senior government officials and their relatives.

In July 2010, the US Congress voted to reduce - by almost $4 billion - aid to the Afghan government in response to allegations of rampant corruption.

Fragile achievements

Afghanistan has made some significant progress over the past decade thanks to unprecedented international support. The country has been showered with more than US$40 billion in foreign aid since late 2001, according to the Ministry of Finance.

Access to health and education has improved, while overall annual economic growth is estimated at over 10 percent since 2002, according to the World Bank.

Girls were deprived of an education until 2001, but now about 2.4 million female students are enrolled at schools across the country, aid agencies say.

However, experts say these achievements are fragile and reversible.

“Gains in girls’ education are slipping away as a result of poverty, growing insecurity, a lack of trained teachers, neglect of post-primary education and poorly equipped schools,” 16 Afghan and foreign aid agencies warned in a report on 24 February.

And there are other challenges: Every hour two women die from pregnancy or childbirth complications; one in five children dies before reaching the age of five from preventable and curable diseases; at least eight of the country’s 29 million people are food insecure; 70 percent of Afghans lack access to safe drinking water; illiteracy rates are high. Afghanistan is ranked one of the least developed countries on earth.

In his latest report to the UN Security Council about the situation in Afghanistan, the UN Secretary-General said that the goal of the transition process was to move the country away from conflict. “The generosity of the international community will remain crucial to achieving this transition,” he said on 9 March.