Aid to Afghanistan is in crisis, says ActionAid

International donors are letting Afghanistan down. Whilst they have been calling for greater transparency and accountability in Afghanistan, they themselves have failed to adhere to these values.

In a major new report tracking aid to Afghanistan, ActionAid and Afghanistan’s Economic Literacy and Budget Analysis Group say that the international community is following an inconsistent and incoherent approach to development in the country.

Donors have failed to deliver money pledged for aid, distributing US$5bn less than promised between 2002 and 2006, despite finding the many hundreds of billions necessary for military operations. Even when aid comes through it is often late and most of it sidesteps the Afghan government and parliament. Consequently it has become extremely difficult for the government to budget and deliver services efficiently.

The report argues that this is a key threat to fighting poverty and delivering tangible improvements to people’s lives, and one which ultimately could undermine the delivery of stable democracy.

The report shows that:

  • Aid bypasses government: three quarters of aid to Afghanistan is spent directly by donors without properly informing the Afghan government: this amounted to US$11bn between 2002 and 2006.
  • Aid is rarely evaluated: the Afghan government rarely receives information on the effectiveness of the aid programmes run by international donors.
  • Aid comes with strings attached: of the quarter of the annual development budget that the Afghan government is responsible for, 72% comes from international donors, with many imposing further conditions on its use.
  • Aid carries excessive red tape: the Afghan government’s institutional capability may be fragile, but is further undermined by excessive donor bureaucracy. Often donors employ western consultants rather than working through legitimate local and national bodies, weakening local capacity still more.
  • Aid comes late or not at all: Afghanistan’s flagship development programme, the National Solidarity Programme, currently has a UD$197.33 million deficit and it is estimated that it will have a funding shortfall of 87% during 2008.

Afghanistan is the world’s fourth poorest country. If it is to combat poverty and build a democratic society it will need to generate more of its own revenue and tackle institutional weaknesses. It also needs to improve its capacity to deliver services effectively – such as schools, hospitals and roads – in order to meet the requirements of its people. But current donor behavior too often works against this.

Akbar Wahdat, Afghan parliamentarian and chairperson of the Economic Literacy and Budget Analysis Group, called on the international community, donors and the government to ensure the full contribution of the people of Afghanistan in development and reconstruction of the country.

The National Solidarity Programme

He said: “A lot of foreign money that has entered the country from external sources is used for special military and political purposes and the people of this country have had limited benefits and chances to use this money for their social and economic rehabilitation.”

The report analyses aid to the National Solidarity Programme, Afghanistan’s flagship rural development programme reaching over 22,000 villages.

In a country where agriculture and related rural trades are the major sources of livelihood, the programme is supposed to lay the foundations for sustainable and inclusive local government, rural reconstruction and poverty alleviation. It currently has a US$197.33 million deficit and it is estimated that it will have a funding shortfall of 87% during 2008.

Such shortfalls lead to cases such as a school building project in Mingajik village that had to wait until 2007 to receive its second phase of funding after receiving an initial payment in 2004.  Due to the lack of funds, work on the project was stopped and the school remained half built. During this time bricks were stolen, a dispute raged between the community and local authority, costs increased and the project was further delayed. 

Mudasser Hussain Siddiqui, ActionAid Afghanistan policy research and advocacy coordinator acknowledged that the National Solidarity Programme has had internal administrative problems, but said that implementation failures were also due to donors not living up to funding commitments.

He said: “Donors and the international community should fulfil their commitments because every time they fail to do so it creates a downward spiral for poor communities and holds up the ongoing reconstruction of Afghanistan.

“The government, especially the Ministry of Rural Reconstruction and Development, must work with donors to avoid funding crises, and to sort out assessment procedures and ensure people’s participation.”