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Afghanistan: Aid Disbursements Highlight Priorities

The recent disbursement of the first reconstruction aid for Afghanistan by interim leader Hamid Karzai reveals the administration's priorities for improving living conditions within the country. The resources have gone to health, education, women's affairs, orphanages, and the reconstruction of state broadcasting facilities.

Kabul, 20 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, has signed a series of emergency decrees in order to distribute the first international reconstruction aid in his country.

Karzai's choices reveal the interim administration's priorities for improving living conditions within Afghanistan. At a check-signing ceremony on 17 February, Karzai announced the first reconstruction funds are going to improve schools, hospitals and orphanages. He said aid money also has been disbursed to the ministry of women's affairs and to the Ministry of Information.

"We have allocated $10,000 to each province for education, $10,000 to each province for health, and some money to the Ministry of Information to enable it to be able to reach the Afghan people -- to improve the radio and TV services. And also, to the Ministry of Women's Affairs -- the ministry that had nothing -- to have furniture, to have an office and to begin to work, and to the orphanages so that the lives of our orphans improve a little bit," Karzai said.

The money for the first reconstruction disbursement comes from a gift of $1.6 million that was presented to Karzai in cash by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayan of the United Arab Emirates earlier in February.

The first check signed by Karzai went to the Department of Public Health. It totaled more than $300,000. In signing the check, Karzai instructed department head Suhaila Seddiqi to make sure that all of the money was spent wisely on improving hospital conditions across the country.

Abdul Rassoul Amin, who heads the Department of Education, received a check from Karzai for more than $300,000. That money is earmarked for restoring schools in each province of the country.

A total of $50,000 was given to the Ministry of Information and Culture. Karzai said that money is to be spent on improving equipment for state radio and television so it can expand broadcasting to more regions.

Karzai said most of the existing state broadcasting equipment in Afghanistan is more than 30 years old. Much was looted or vandalized by the different warring factions that controlled Kabul during the last two decades.

Sima Samar, an interim administration vice-chairwoman and head of the Ministry of Women's Affairs, was given a check by Karzai for about $20,000 to get the work of that ministry under way.

Karzai said some of the money will go to a house for destitute women.

"We also have money allocated [to help women] -- and the Ministry of Women's Affairs went the other day to the place where we [are sheltering] women who have no homes -- widows who have no homes, who are living in appalling conditions," Karzai said. "I can't tell you what it was. Appalling conditions. We are buying clothes and things for [those] women in [a center called the] House for Destitute Women, and I'm glad that is taking place."

When asked to comment on the size of the disbursement, Samar expressed mixed reactions: "At least it's a good and positive sign that I got $20,000, which is not enough. But, I mean, at least it is something. It is the beginning of the work. Only I asked for more, and I had pushed for more."

This week's reconstruction aid package did not include funds for establishing facilities for a yet-to-be created national guard and police force -- although Karzai has said that is a priority.

Karzai said training of the first units for that force began this week. He said Germany, the U.S., Britain, and Turkey are assisting Kabul in creating that force. Germany is taking a lead role in the training exercises. Turkey is providing military uniforms for the force.