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Afghanistan: Report Says Foreign Aid Being Wasted, Billions Still Not Delivered

Is enough aid pledged by the West reaching the Afghan people? (epa) Afghanistan is highly dependent on foreign aid, and a new study says that some $10 billion in international aid pledged to the country has not been delivered.

The study by the Agency Coordinating Body For Afghan Relief (ACBAR) also says that much of the aid that has been sent is not being properly used.

The study says that since the ouster of the Taliban regime in late 2001, the international community has pledged some $25 billion in aid to Afghanistan. But it says only $15 billion of that total has been delivered -- in a country where some 90 percent of public spending is international aid.

The study, "Falling Short," also finds that a "staggering" 40 percent of the Western funds that are spent on aid projects are returned to the donor countries through fees to contractors and salaries to employees from those countries.

Ramazan Bashardost, an Afghan parliament member and former planning minister, tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that a lot of the aid money is being wasted.

"In the United States, Britain, and other countries, people work and taxpayers pay money that goes to help Afghanistan to build roads, dams, and electricity lines," Bashardost says. "But when the money comes to Afghanistan, it's spent for those people who have cars costing $60,000 and who live in houses with a $15,000 monthly rent. This money goes to these expenses -- 90 percent logistics and administration."

The ACBAR report, which was written by the British charity Oxfam, points out that the United States, the European Commission, and Germany are among major donors that have failed so far to fulfill their pledges of aid. The United States has delivered only half of the $10.4 billion it pledged to 2008, while the European Commission and Germany have sent less than two-thirds of their commitments.

The World Bank's country manager for Afghanistan, Mariam Sherman, told AFP that its disbursal rate -- said to be just over 50 percent -- was "actually very good," considering projects take years to complete and pledges do not arrive immediately.

The report also criticizes the "wasteful and ineffective" use of available aid money.

'Frustration Is Growing'

ACBAR Deputy Director Mohammad Hashim Mayar tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that both rural and relatively secure areas are being neglected.

"The donations are spent mostly in cities, not villages, while most people live in villages," Mayar says. "They are spent in areas where security is not good, hoping that it will improve there. But the opposite is happening. We have seen that security didn't improve in those areas, but worsened instead. In areas where there are possibilities of [implementing projects], no work is being done."

The report also indicates that a "disproportionate" amount of aid is being used for military objectives rather than reducing poverty.

While the U.S. military spends $100 million a day, the average amount of aid spent by all donors combined has been just $7 million a day since 2001.

Mayar says the report's findings echo the feelings of many Afghans, who are disappointed by a lack of tangible progress. "If the donations are not used in the right way, security will worsen and peace cannot improve. Or, if it comes, it takes too long," he says.

"Therefore there is a fear that there will be more insecurity, more frustration because at the beginning the government promised 'we will do this and that.' But the international community could not help properly and the government didn't have the capability [to improve the situation, so] frustration is growing," Mayar adds.

The report notes that the shortfalls in aid could be partly attributed to "challenging operating conditions, high levels of corruption, and weak absorption capacities."

The report adds that these failings could also be the reason that about two-thirds of foreign assistance bypasses the Afghan government, undermining efforts to build effective state institutions.

ACBAR includes some 94 aid agencies working in Afghanistan, including Oxfam, Christian Aid, CARE, Islamic Relief, and Save the Children.

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

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