Pledge given on Afghan aid

12 December 2014

reuters

Advocate: Malala Yousafzai poses with her Nobel Peace Prize medal and diploma in Oslo, on Wednesday

Advocate: Malala Yousafzai poses with her Nobel Peace Prize medal and diploma in Oslo, on Wednesday

THE huge but fragile gains made in improving the lives of Afghan people could be lost unless the international community maintains its financial support, civil-society groups warned last week.

As the year-end deadline for the withdrawal of NATO troops draws near, agencies are urging donors not to pull out with them.

"Afghanistan has made huge strides forward since 2001," Jawad Nade, the director of the British and Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group, of which Christian Aid is a member, said on Monday. "Although there is still much to be done, there have been massive improvements in health, education, and infrastructure. Life expectancy is up, girls are going to school, and, for the first time, many people have a clinic in their village.

"But we're worried that if the international community turns its back on Afghanistan as the foreign troops leave, then this progress could stall, or even go backwards."

Mr Nade was speaking before the London Conference on Afghanistan, hosted on Thursday of last week by the Prime Minister, and the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani. A survey of Afghan delegates found that three-quarters (73 per cent) of them had seen their funding fall in the past year, and 90 per cent feared that this was imminent.

A communiqué published by the Afghan government at the end of the conference said that the international community had reiterated its commitment to providing "significant but declining financial support". Two-thirds of the country's annual budget of £4.8 billion is dependent on foreign assistance. The Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, said that the Government would continue to support Afghanistan - it has committed itself to maintaining aid of £178 million a year until 2017 - but that the Afghan government must, in return, "demonstrate to the taxpayers of donor countries that their assistance is being used wisely".

Mr Ghani told delegates: "You do not need to remind us that corruption is a problem, or institution-building. We own them, and will deliver."

His election in September constituted the first ever democratic transfer of power. The UN's under-secretary-general for political affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, told the conference that this represented "a key milestone in the political rebirth of the nation". But he warned of "faltering growth, dimishing revenue, and a burgeoning illict economy . . . Corruption, weak rule of law, and lack of respect for human rights, including women's rights, remain widespread."

Last week, Zulaikha Rafiq, the executive director of the Afghan Women's Educational Centre, a Christian Aid partner, said that the situation for Afghan women was "still dire", but "we have come a long way since the Taliban regime. . . We are optimistic that the new leadership will keep the women's-rights agenda in the forefront of their priorities, especially since both leaders have signed a list of priorities that women's-rights groups had presented to them before they were elected."

Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest level since 2001: 6000 soldiers and police and about 3000 civilians have been killed this year. A survey of Afghan delegates found that 60 per cent felt less safe in their work than they had a year ago: half stated that either they or their colleagues had suffered intimidation or death threats.

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