Development Issues


Afghanistan, Development: Pentagon’s Economic Development in Afghanistan ‘Accomplished Nothing’

Defence News, Nov. 18, 2014 – 03:45AM   |  By JOE GOULD   |

An Afghan construction worker makes concrete tubes on the outskirts of Kabul. A U.S. inspector general is investigating Pentagon reconstruction efforts in the country. (WAKIL KOHSAR/ / Agence France-Presse)

WASHINGTON — The US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) says he is investigating the Pentagon’s efforts to spark that country’s economic development, which cost between $700 million and $800 million and “accomplished nothing.”

SIGAR’s chief, John Sopko, told reporters Tuesday, that the agency has opened an “in-depth review” into the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), a Defense Department unit aimed at developing war zone mining, industrial development and fostering private investments.

“We have gotten serious allegations about the management and mismanagement of that agency, as well as a policy question about what they were doing and whether they should have existed,” Sopko said.

More broadly, Sopko faulted the US government’s economic development efforts in Afghanistan as “an abysmal failure,” saying it lacked a single leader, a clear strategy or accountability. An avenue of inquiry for SIGAR’s investigation into TFBSO could be Afghanistan’s underdeveloped mining industry.

“We have seen hit-and-miss efforts to develop the [Afghan] economy,” Sopko said of the US. “You, the development experts, should have had a plan to develop the economy and you haven’t, so now we’re stuck.”

Untapped mineral wealth in Afghanistan is estimated at $1 trillion, but Sopko noted that Afghanistan has only recently passed mineral laws and legal gaps make investment unattractive. Critics say the law lacks transparency regarding contracts and ownership, and strong rules for open and fair bidding.

The task force did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sopko has said the US’ unprecedented $120 billion reconstruction investment there is at risk because Afghanistan is rife with corruption and lacks the security, technical prowess and economic health to sustain much of the work the US has done. He cited the case of $486 million the Defense Department spent for 20 G222 transport planes intended for the Afghan Air Force that sat idle in Kabul before they were sold for $32,000 and scrapped.

While the perception on Capitol Hill is that the US commitment is over, Sopko said, it has promised a decade of funding in its bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan.

“We need to make a commitment there because they can’t afford the government we’ve given them, and if our intended goal was a government that would keep or kick the terrorists out, we’re going to have to fund it,” Sopko said.

Afghanistan’s domestic revenues do not cover its total public expenditures, 90 percent of which are funded by the US and international partners, according to a report last year from another government watchdog, the Government Accountability Office.

Corruption continues to feed the insurgency and drain the economy, Sopko said, but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s focus on anti-corruption and regaining money from the 2010 Kabul Bank failure are positive signs. Sopko was optimistic for freedom of movement and better security within 10 years.

“It is better, but the question I’m asking is, ‘Could it have been better,’” he said. “This is the most money we have spent on reconstruction of a single country in the history of our republic. Shouldn’t it have been better?” ■



Afghanistan, Development: The West Made Lots of Promises to Afghan Girls, Now It’s Breaking Them

Original article found on: The Daily Beast

By Heather Barr, 10/20/14

One reason given for the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was to educate girls. But as the Western military shrinks there, so does the funding for those schools.

Shah Marai/AFP/Getty

Shah Marai/AFP/Getty

KABUL, Afghanistan — The girls of Afghanistan have been betrayed. When Taliban rule ended almost 13 years ago, international donors rushed in to promise that young women would no longer be denied an education. Western governments spent a decade patting themselves on the back for what they touted as exceptional work supporting schools for the beleaguered girls of Afghanistan. They talked about bringing women out of purdah, literally as well as figuratively, so they could help their families and their country to prosper.

But the closing of one school after another exposes the hollowness of those promises. In fact, the state of education in Afghanistan is still so shaky that only about half of Afghan girls manage to go to school, and those numbers are set to decline.

In the volatile southern province of Kandahar, for instance, an innovative school for teenage girls will soon close its doors. The Kandahar Institute for Modern Studies, established in 2006 with funding and encouragement from the Canadian government, has run out of donors. And it is only one of a number of Afghan schools to face the budget axe swung by distant governments and cost-cutting politicians.

Other schools have been shuttered because of attacks and threats stemming from the war that continues to engulf the country. In July, girls’ schools closed in one entire district, depriving 40,000 girls of education.

The website of the U.S. development agency proudly proclaims, “In 2013, one million Afghan learners are enrolled in schools with USAID assistance, and over 5 million primary grade students benefitted from USAID assistance.” But in January 2014, the U.S. Congress cut the U.S. government’s allocation of development aid for Afghanistan by half.

Then there’s the United Kingdom. “We agree that expanded access to good quality secondary education that produces skills for employment is essential for Afghanistan’s future prosperity,” the British government wrote in 2013. Yet in a 2012 report the U.K. government had already decided that it had “built too much” in terms of schools and health clinics in Afghanistan and that only “critical” facilities would remain open.

“The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women,” said Laura Bush, wife of then-U.S. President George W. Bush.
Getting Afghan girls into school wasn’t just a benign-but-unintended by-product of the international military intervention in Afghanistan. Soon after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. and the invasion of Afghanistan, world leaders explicitly cited the extreme oppression suffered by women and girls under the Taliban as a justification for the operation.

“The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women,” said Laura Bush, wife of then-U.S. President George W. Bush, in November 2001, giving the weekly presidential radio address in place of her husband.

“The women of Afghanistan still have a spirit that belies their unfair, downtrodden image,” said Cherie Blair, wife of then-U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, also in November 2001. “We need to help them free that spirit and give them their voice back, so they can create the better Afghanistan we all want to see.”

But today, as crises in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Central African Republic, South Sudan, and West Africa compete for attention, Afghanistan is not even yesterday’s news—it’s last year’s news. Journalists are leaving Kabul, embassies are downsizing, and donors are quietly and drastically scaling back.

“How’s it going?” I asked a friend who runs aid programs at the U.S. embassy in Kabul not long ago.

“Oh, you know,” he said. “Just shutting things down.”

Military disengagement from Afghanistan is advancing; the newly signed Bilateral Security Agreement with the U.S. and Status of Forces Agreement with NATO pave the way for a continued, but very limited, international military involvement in Afghanistan.

Donor involvement is more important than ever, however. President Hamid Karzai handed over to Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, not just the reins of power but also a badly overdrawn checking account. Ghani’s government has been forced to seek a $537 million bailout from donors just to continue paying civil servant salaries. There are hopes that this new government, fronted by Ghani, a technocrat who was formerly Afghanistan’s finance minister and spent several decades with the World Bank, will bring much-needed fiscal stability to the Afghan economy. But that won’t happen tomorrow.

Afghanistan will have to pay for its own schools one day, and one hopes it is moving in that direction. But it can’t possibly do so right now. The ones who will pay first and worst are the country’s girls as they slide back toward the devastation of illiteracy.

A November donor conference in London will bring together all of Afghanistan’s donors to take stock of commitments made at the 2012 Tokyo Conference and to craft a new partnership going forward. Donors should come to the conference mindful not just of commitments they have made to the Afghan government, but also the solemn pledges they first made to support Afghan women and girls in 2001, and have made over and over since then.

Earlier this month, after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to two children’s rights activists, Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Yousafzai, a 17-year old from Pakistan, would be travelling to Canada to accept honorary Canadian citizenship, an honor only five others, including Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama, have ever received. U.S. President Barack Obama was quick to congratulate the Nobel winners as well, saying, “As we celebrate their achievements, we must recommit ourselves to the world that they seek—one in which our daughters have the right and opportunity to get an education; and in which all children are treated equally.”

That’s what Afghan girls want. And that’s what the countries that marched into Afghanistan 13 years ago promised them. This is no time to break that promise.

Original article found on: The Daily Beast


Development, Afghanistan: Afghan malnutrition – the search for solutions

JALALABAD, 11 November 2014 (IRIN) – Abdullah’s wails of pain are punctuated only by his rasping cough. His arms bound to his body, he is five months old but weighs just 3.2kg, lighter than some newborns. In the next bed, three-month old Shukoria looks withered and worn, her face wrinkled and pained.

Both are suffering from malnutrition, which affects more than 40 percent of Afghan children, killing thousands every year and leaving millions with permanent disabilities.

“Malnutrition is the main reason for deaths of children under five in this province,” Homayoun Zaheer, head of the Jalalabad hospital, said, pointing to the children.

A government-backed report highlighted the extent of malnutrition in the country, yet experts say efforts to tackle the problem are hampered by cultural norms, shrinking health budgets and the short-term nature of aid donations.

Slow starters

While Afghan malnutrition rates have long been high, until recently they had, many aid workers agree, been something of a hidden problem as there was – and still is – a lack of evidence about the scale of the problem.

The issue was therefore often neglected when aid was doled out. Since 2007 the country has been the world’s leading recipient of development assistance as a percentage of its national income, with US$6.2 billion in 2012 alone. Yet that spending has focused on governance and security, and while new health infrastructure has been created, the extent of malnutrition has received little study.

Franck Abeille, country director at Action Against Hunger (known by its French acronym ACF) said that in the early years after the 2001 US-led invasion there was little focus on malnutrition. “ACF, for example, hardly worked on nutrition from 2003 up until 2006-07,” he said.

The most recent National Nutrition Survey – the first in the country since 2004 – released late last year, showed that over 40 percent of Afghan children under the age of five suffered from permanent stunting as a result of malnutrition, while 9.5 percent of children suffered from wasting.

The number of children with severe acute malnutrition had more than tripled from 98,900 in 2003 to 362,317, while the estimated number of pregnant and lactating women requiring nutrition interventions had nearly doubled to 246,283. Acute malnutrition typically kills more quickly than chronic malnutrition, which is the world’s leading cause of preventable mental disability.

Budget issues

The survey, coming alongside other new evidence, has helped prompt both the Afghan government and the UN to commit to focusing their resources on malnutrition, with the problem to be designated one of the three key priorities of the forthcoming Common Humanitarian Action Plan for 2015.

Yet the drive comes at a time when health resources are being squeezed. Under the country’s Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS) healthcare system, international NGOs act as contractors to take on the basic provision of health services in a given district. As the Afghan government has faced financial cutbacks the BPHS budget has decreased, undermining malnutrition outreach programmes. In one province, the monthly budget per patient for all services dropped from 7 euros up to 2013 to 4.7 euros per patient per year in 2014, according to a report from ACF.

“The contract has a set amount of money per patient and the nutrition amount is too small to be useful as it doesn’t allow for any outreach work to take place,” Mark Bowden, the UN Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and the Humanitarian Coordinator for the country. “So essentially nutrition has been ignored within the health system.”

Towards solutions

While all sides now agree on the severity of the malnutrition crisis, the solutions are less agreed upon.

Claude Jibidar, country director at the World Food Programme, said that one route he was pushing for is to fortify wheat – the staple of the Afghan diet – potentially with government subsidies.

“A lot of the micronutrient deficiencies would be immediately dealt with,” Jibidar said. “You fortify with a pack of minerals and vitamins [dealing with] anaemia, iron, vitamin A and vitamin D deficiencies.”

“To address the causes of malnutrition. the first [priority] is culture change – to change the mindset of people towards breastfeeding their children.”

“People say it has an effect on the price – I am told it would cost about $4-5 dollars additionally per kilo. Even if it is 10 times that the benefit is worth it,” he added.

Yet such a scheme, while potentially making older Afghans healthier, would only have a limited impact on the youngest.

Hamza Atim, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical coordinator for Boost Hospital in Lashkar Gar – in the contested Helmand Province where acute malnutrition is among the highest in the country – pointed out that many Afghan communities do not have a culture of breastfeeding their newly-born children.

Abeille pointed out that this can lead to stunting. “When a child is born, the first milk from the mother. is really the first thing the baby needs,” he said.

“We treat children who are acutely malnourished in hospital – but this is only addressing the symptoms of malnutrition,” Atim said. “If you need to address the causes you need to do a lot of things but the first [priority] is culture change – to change the mindset of people towards breastfeeding their children.”

“Breastfeeding will stop children from getting a lot of illnesses. But this has gone on for generations, so it is a hard sell to address.”

In Jalalabad, Zaheer said they had launched education schemes for the local population, including group sessions in which mothers are taught about health schemes, but admitted many women, particularly those in rural areas, cannot afford to come every week. “Poverty is the key issue here. Poverty and ignorance – it can be a vicious cycle,” he said.

Bowden, the humanitarian coordinator, agreed that more education schemes are needed. “The highest rates of malnutrition correlate to the highest rates of female illiteracy and lack of female education.”

From humanitarian to development

A shift in attitudes on malnutrition may also help. While emergency humanitarian actors have prioritized acute malnutrition, development agencies are needed.

“You have figures for acute malnutrition that are above emergency levels – which is why we treat it as a humanitarian issue – but there are also major issues of stunting, which is largely a development issue,” Bowden said.

Abeille echoed a number of other actors calling for long-term development funding to tackle the root causes of malnutrition.

“When you meet donors they say: ‘one year is perfect, let’s move forward.’ When you suggest three or four years they say: ‘I am not sure we can find the funds.’ So next year we come back with the same problem.”


Development: The Peace Bridge to Nowhere

Original article found on: Foreign Policy


Changing how peacebuilding organizations measure success could save aid projects that are stuck trying to meet rigid, dated, and increasingly arbitrary goals in conflict zones.


Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan — a depressing list, which seems to grow each day. It can be read as shorthand for human suffering and international tragedy. For the multitude of conflict prevention and humanitarian organizations that are committed to preventing the calamities that have struck these countries, the list is a sobering reminder of how much work needs to be done.

But it is also a reminder that this work demands continuous evaluation. The governments, foundations, and individuals that fund international aid work demand assurance that their money is being spent wisely; any hope for success demands being able to deploy smart, well-run programs. And doing that means being able to hold agencies and organizations accountable.

There’s a paradox, however. The challenges inherent to working in conflict zones means that strengthening the current approach to accountability — judging success against promises made years ahead of time — will create less effective programs, not better ones. The paradox is caused by a stable, slow-moving system, like the U.S. government, colliding with the unstable, rapidly changing conditions in conflict zones.

Virtually all of the work funded by the U.S. government or other international funders in areas of conflict follows a certain model: An agency identifies a problem and designs programming to address it, then hires a for-profit contractor or non-profit NGO to make it happen. Along with other independent agencies, such as inspectors general, the funding agency then tries to hold the hired organization accountable for achieving the objectives described in the original agreement. In the end, the results are supposed to check off the boxes from the initial plan, regardless of what might have happened in the interim.
Needless to say, this doesn’t always work out.

The rigid approach to implementing projects, not so surprisingly, has contributed to some well-documented failures. The final report of the Special Inspector General for Iraq (SIGIR) documented hundreds of abandoned projects that Iraqis are not using, including a $40 million prison that “will never hold a single Iraqi prisoner.” In her new book Peaceland, Severine Autesserre describes another illuminating failure: The United Nations sought to increase security in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by deploying additional police officers to the region. However, the police received no training, and the government of the DRC saw them as U.N. police, so refused to pay them. As Autesserre documents, the untrained, unpaid police became just another group preying on the local population, but at the end of the project, because the stated goal was to establish the force in the first place, the U.N. still claimed it as a success.

Lurking behind these failures is funding agencies’ normal accountability mechanisms, which simply don’t work when applied to conflict-affected areas because they make it very difficult to adapt programming to changing circumstances. As Andrew Natsios, the former administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), has argued, the accountability system in Washington, which he calls the counter-bureaucracy, “misapplies a domestic management lens to aid programs.”

Holding an organization accountable for building a highway bridge in Minnesota, for instance, requires a different approach than holding an organization accountable for building a Ministry of Justice in Libya.

Holding an organization accountable for building a highway bridge in Minnesota, for instance, requires a different approach than holding an organization accountable for building a Ministry of Justice in Libya.

Still, the need for accountability won’t change — working in challenging places cannot mean that organizations get a pass for not doing the job. But the way that success is measured and applied needs to evolve. So how should the U.S. government hold peacebuilders, contractors and NGOs, accountable in a way that actually makes sense?

To oversimplify a bit, the current approach is built around two basic questions that funding agencies ask: Did you do what you promised you would, and did it achieve the results you said it would? As a result, in the field, the plan drafted by the government — called a “scope-of-work” — guides every decision that contractors and NGOs make. Given how long planning and procurement can take for projects like the prison in Iraq, this means that contractors are often trying to fulfill promises made up to three years before projects even start.

To fix this process — that is, make it more responsive and agile — those questions should be focused on how the project achieved results in an unstable environment. The first question to program directors should be: What results did you achieve? Then, how did the project adapt to be most effective, given the changing context in which you are operating? Finally, what evidence do you have that supports your decisions regarding adapting your project?

Given the rigid, detailed planning processes that are the norm in U.S. government-funded projects, that may sound like a radical departure, but many of the building blocks are already in place. There are already examples of NGOs, international organizations, and U.S. government agencies that have adopted the flexible, adaptive programming that is required to be effective in conflict zones. The NGO Partners for Democratic Change, for instance, often uses a model that is based on establishing a permanent partner “center” within a conflict zone, such as Yemen or Colombia, as opposed to implementing a project with a set of pre-determined activities. A recent evaluation of this model claimed that, “as process experts, the Centers were able to adapt their programs and services to meet new needs and take advantage of new opportunities.” Religious networks, in part because they have independent sources of funding, have been employing a similar, so-called “window of opportunity” model for decades. This model relies on continuous presence in an area and the ability to respond flexibly to opportunities as they arise.

The U.S. Institute of Peace, where I work, uses a similar model, implementing something called Justice and Security Dialogues in six different conflict zones. The project, which consists of ongoing discussions between police and community organizations, is organized as a platform, as opposed to a strict set of activities. The nature of the dialogue and the problems addressed are regularly adapted based on the feedback received from the community and security services. This adaptation makes the dialogues better, and it makes it more likely they will succeed.

The truth of the matter is that it is easier than ever to get reliable feedback on how projects are working. New tools, including SMS-based cell phone surveys, civilian-controlled satellites and drones, social media, and groundbreaking big data projects (such as the GDELT initiative), all provide new and powerful ways to gather data within conflict contexts on both program activities and broader context. And gathering this information will only get easier. The challenge, therefore, is creating a feedback loop, and the only way this can happen is if projects are allowed to adapt in response to the data they gather.

Finally, there is hard evidence that adaptive projects are simply more effective. In a recent blog post, Duncan Green, a strategic advisor for Oxfam Great Britain, discusses a study of the evaluations of 10,000 development projects. The paper reports that, in general, giving program implementers flexibility to adapt to changing realities makes their projects more effective. That impact is stronger in complex environments like conflict zones. A recent evaluation of USAID reconciliation programming similarly found that “programs are most effective when they are adaptively implemented.”

Peacebuilders thus know how to implement adaptive programming, and they know it works. But many of the organizations doing good programming are succeeding despite the demands of their funders, compliance officers, or inspectors general. They find ways to be more flexible, while at the same time doing just enough to keep the “counter-bureaucracy” happy. The shift that is needed is an approach to accountability that doesn’t just create space at the margins for creative organizations to do flexible programming, but which demands that all organizations do this sort of programming. It must then require that organizations provide evidence explaining programming decisions they made and the results achieved. (As a bonus, this approach can safeguard taxpayers’ money.)

As rallying cries go, “More, but different accountability!” probably won’t inspire the masses to march in the streets. For peacebuilders, though, who are used to the long, hard, often dangerous tasks involved in helping countries put themselves back together, it might resonate. It’s time to stop making the hard work even harder.


Andrew Blum is the vice president for program management and evaluation at the United States Institute of Peace. The views expressed here are his own.

Original article found on: Foreign Policy


Development: World’s richest nations fail to meet aid pledges – report

Displaced Somali women arrive at a food distribution centre after moving to higher ground due flooding in areas around Jowhar, a town north of Somalia's capital Mogadishu, December 9, 2013. REUTERS/Omar Faruk

Displaced Somali women arrive at a food distribution centre after moving to higher ground due flooding in areas around Jowhar, a town north of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, December 9, 2013. REUTERS/Omar Faruk

Original article found on: Thomson Reuters Foundation

Posted on October 5th, 2014 by Astrid Zweynert

* Development aid at record $131.2 billion in 2013

* Only one third went to least developed countries

* African governments fail to prioritise spending on anti-poverty measures

By Astrid Zweynert

LONDON, Oct 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation)- – The majority of the world’s rich donor nations failed to meet their development aid pledges in 2013 and only one third of the money went to the poorest countries, a report said on Monday.

Aid by members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) rose 5.3 percent year-on-year to a record $131.2 billion in 2013 after two consecutive years of decline, The One Campaign said in its annual aid data report.

Only a third went to the least developed countries, most of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, despite high-level support for a new target of 50 percent of all aid to be directed towards the poorest nations, said ONE, co-founded by Irish rocker Bono to end extreme poverty.

As world leaders prepare to agree a new set of development goals next year, ONE urged both rich and poor countries to address aid shortfalls to ensure the poorest people are at the heart of a renewed global drive against poverty from 2015.

“If donors don’t step forward and target at least half of their aid to those countries that need it most, the world’s poorest people risk being left behind,” Sara Harcourt, policy director at ONE and an author of the report, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Seventeen out of 28 DAC members increased their overseas development assistance (ODA) but despite these rises aid still only accounted for 0.29 percent of their national wealth, short of a United Nations target for aid spending of 0.7 percent.

Britain became the first country among the Group of 7 industrialised nations to meet the target last year, helped by a$3.95 billion boost to its aid budget.

Japan, Germany and Norway also stepped up efforts but others such as long-standing aid champions France, Canada and Australia showed marked declines in aid budgets amid cuts in overall public spending, along with the Netherlands.

The United States, the world’s largest bilateral donor, compared poorly with other G7 states in terms of aid spending relative to national wealth, with a ratio of just 0.19 percent.


African governments are also failing to prioritise their spending on programmes to boost the fight against extreme poverty, ONE said.

Only six out of 43 sub-Saharan African countries met their own spending goals on health, and only eight met targets on agriculture, the report found.

An additional $54.8 billion would have been mobilised for health between 2010 and 2012 if all sub-Saharan African countries had kept their promises, ONE said.

“First and foremost, public spending by African governments should be targeted towards the fight against poverty,” Sipho Moyo, the campaign’s Africa executive director said.

The report also highlighted a need to change the rules on what counts as aid, saying that since 2000 some $250 billion, or a sixth of all ODA reported by governments, did not involve a real transfer of funds to developing countries.

In 2012, for example, the cost of looking after refugees totalled $4.3 billion, or 3 percent of ODA. Administrative costs stood at $6.7 billion, or 5 percent of ODA.

Aid levels have also been given an artificial boost by including inflated valuations of debt relief, ONE said.

More stringent guidelines are also needed on which loans to developing countries count as aid, ONE said. It reckons that if these had been in place in 2012, $19 billion of loans would not have qualified as aid.

It urged the DAC countries, due to hold a senior-level meeting in Paris this week, to ensure a new definition of aid means it reaches those who need it most. (Reporting By Astrid Zweynert; Editing by Ros Russell)

Original article found on: Thomson Reuters Foundation

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