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Reconstructing Afghanistan: Priorities and Challenges

Soldiers from Task Force Pacemaker provided the comfort items. (Department of Defense)

Soldiers from Task Force Pacemaker provided the comfort items. (Department of Defense)

Role of USAID in Reconstruction

Afghanistan has been the largest recipient of humanitarian assistance from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for the past several years as a response to the ongoing drought for the past three years. In 2001, the US obligated over $180 million in food aid and disaster assistance for Afghanistan. After the events of and following 9/11, the US Congress made a $320 million emergency supplemental aid package available to USAID and the State Department. Of this amount, USAID was responsible for aid worth $191 million, half of which was food aid and half in non-food emergency relief. The food aid was distributed and reached the needs of six million Afghans. USAID also funded the purchase of emergency aid such as winter blankets, fuel, warm clothes, health and hygiene assistance, tools, and conducted well-digging projects. USAID funded the purchase of trucks and equipment to facilitate food delivery. They facilitated entries in the north and northeast in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan that were considered the most vulnerable areas in the country at that time. The US pledged $297 million at the Tokyo donor conference-of which $186 million comes under the management of USAID. All of this is immediately available. USAID is now putting together needs assessments for Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003. There should be no shortage of financial resources for what is the currently the top priority of the US administration in its foreign engagement.

There are three significant challenges in moving forward in the reconstruction process. First, the drought appears to be continuing; second, the economy has a very low absorptive capacity for investment, and last, is the continued political instability and a lack of security.

The international community has mobilized a large amount of food aid. USAID recently funded a food-security assessment in Kabul and six provinces in the south and southwest by a Tufts University famine expert, Sue Lautze. The report indicates the country is now likely to have a fourth year of drought that will prevent rapid resolution of the problem. Severe malnutrition is found throughout the country. The key determinant of food and economic and political security is not food, but water. It is likely that there will be further internal dislocations due to water shortages. USAID, the Food and Agriculture Organization, World Food Programme and others will work to ensure that implications of this research are built into new USAID programs. Relief, recovery and reconstruction are likely to occur simultaneously.

The second challenge or constraint is a powerful one. Physical devastation and deterioration are severe. There are massive holes in remnants of buildings in Kabul. The Shamali Plains look like a lunar landscape after years of battle and intentional destruction by the Taliban. And of course, reconstruction is a highly inefficient process in Afghanistan. It is extraordinarily difficult without phones, electricity, no heat, limited water and sanitation. It takes time and physical energy to get anything accomplished. All of these difficulties render the fledgling administration almost non-functional, which in turn means that people in Afghanistan outside of Kabul see little in terms of benefits of a post-Taliban regime. Efficiency of investment and attempts to implement real change is extremely difficult.

The third challenge is security, which is the most obvious. The lack of security limits movement of people, investment of resources and the reconciliation process. Events and actuality of violence and perception of the possibility of violence is a real constraint. USAID must operate within the Embassy diplomatic security umbrella, which means that they must live in cramped quarters inside the Embassy compound in the bunker. There are two directly hired staff and five temporary people. There is, however, plans to fill a couple of posts in the civilian affairs part of the defense department to work with Defense Department’s humanitarian aid and to move with them throughout the country. True reconstruction will only come to pass when the security allows money to flow into Afghanistan.

Despite these and other daunting challenges, the international community should not be deterred from these efforts. Priorities within the US government and within USAID are well known: completion of the campaign against terrorism, establishment of security that will enable a peaceful transition to a multiethnic and representational government, support for the continuation of the Bonn process including the fulfillment of the government on counter-narcotics and human rights and the restoration of a functioning economy leading to social and economic progress. USAID, while involved in many of these processes, has major responsibility for the economy. USAID will continue with humanitarian food and relief programs. They are planning to focus on agricultural revitalization through stimulation of purchasing power by increasing livelihoods, rural infrastructure, improving healthcare and rebuilding educational opportunities.

To sustain balance between the center and provinces however, assistance will have to take into account the need to create capacity and functionality in the interim administration and to rebuild critical physical infrastructure. Reintegrating demobilized combatants is yet another priority, as is alternative development in poppy areas. The sustainability of governance systems is also essential, and will be encouraged through the establishment of transparent public accounts, renewal of banking systems, as well as some of the justice and constitutional processes that need to be completed as determined in the Bonn process. Recent efforts have focused on spot reconstruction in rural areas, cleaning rubble from bombed-out ministries, distributing wheat seeds and fertilizer in areas with sufficient water for planting; distributing textbooks for kindergarten through 12th grade (in collaboration with UNICEF) and continuing vaccination programs. The President, the Secretary of State and the head of USAID have all stated publicly that the United States is committed to the reconstruction process in the long run.