Washington — The more than $20 billion in new aid for Afghanistan raised at a recent donors’ conference reflects the international community’s confidence in the fledgling South Asian democracy and a belief in the Afghan people’s determination to start the next phase of their emergence from decades of war, poverty and oppressive Taliban rule.
“We are determined to achieve our goal of a safe, stable, and prosperous Afghanistan,” says Henrietta Fore, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). “We are consciously making a decision to invest in the future of Afghanistan.”
Fore was among representatives of more than 80 nations, international institutions and nongovernmental organizations who met in Paris June 12 for the International Conference in Support of Afghanistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai presented to the conference the Afghanistan National Development Strategy, a detailed study of Afghanistan’s continuing development assistance needs from the international community for the next five years.
The conference raised approximately $21 billion in new aid — including a $10.2 billion pledge from the United States — twice the amount raised at Afghanistan’s 2006 donors’ conference in London. (See “Afghan Determination Earns $20 Billion in New Aid.”)
“There were more donors present, they were giving more, and this clearly shows increasing support for Afghanistan,” said U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan William Wood, who joined Fore at a June 18 State Department briefing.
Aid donations at the Paris conference complement security pledges that were made at NATO’s 2008 Bucharest Summit, where the trans-Atlantic alliance’s 28 member states and 12 partner nations of the International Security Assistance Force renewed their commitment to helping Afghans safeguard their country from continued militant violence. This security assistance has enabled significant development progress since 2001, Fore said, including:
• Improved access to health care, with 85 percent of Afghan citizens now having access to basic services, compared to only 9 percent in 2003.
• A 26 percent decrease in child deaths, saving approximately 80,000 Afghan lives every year since 2002.
Afghan bulldozers flatten the ground for a new road outside Kabul.
• More than 5.7 million Afghan children enrolled in schools, including more than 2 million girls, who were denied education under Taliban rule.
• More than 13,000 kilometers of new and upgraded roads across Afghanistan, opening new trade and development opportunities.
“We applaud the people of Afghanistan for all that they have accomplished in the past six years; and looking forward, we are honored to have the opportunity to continue to follow their lead and support the development of Afghanistan as a nation in a community of donors,” Fore said.
While these gains were funded largely by the international donor community, including more than $26 billion in U.S. aid since 2001, Paris conference funds will be channeled largely through Afghanistan’s new development strategy and its government, representing Afghans taking greater control of their future, Wood said.
“We’re all intending to channel more of our assistance through Afghan government institutions as they’re able to manage those funds effectively. That was a high priority for Afghanistan; it’s a high priority for the international community.”
The appointment of Finland’s Kai Eide as the U.N. secretary-general’s new special representative for Afghanistan will represent a new level of international coordination in the rebuilding effort, he added.
Top USAID development priorities in the coming year include a continued focus on power and roads, as well as efforts to help train a new generation of Afghan political leaders to extend the essential services and other benefits of democratic governance to communities across Afghanistan, Fore said.
Agricultural development will remain another major priority, she added, highlighting new USAID funding for an Afghan government program to help local farmers purchase seeds and essential tools aimed at boosting 2009 cereal harvests while encouraging farmers to turn away from cultivating opium poppies. (See “Voucher Program for Afghan Farmers Encourages Agriculture.”)
While security remains a challenge, as seen in a recent attack on a prison in Kandahar province followed by the seizure of several area villages in the former Taliban stronghold, Wood said that Afghans remain determined to rebuild their country.
“The Taliban can raise a lot of dust at any given moment and a given point. They can’t stay. They don’t have the loyalty of the people,” Wood said. “We, the United States; we, the international community; and we, the government of Afghanistan, are feeling much more confident.”