Development gains made in Afghanistan over the last decade are in danger of being thrown away if levels of aid fall away in conjunction with the withdrawal of international troops in 2014, Oxfam warned today.
Ahead of a vital donor conference in Tokyo this week, Oxfam is calling on governments represented at the summit to maintain levels of aid to the country and ensure this aid reaches the Afghan men, women and children who need it most.
The agency is warning that decisions about aid levels and spending come at a critical time for Afghanistan, the country's single biggest donor, the USA, having already dramatically cut development aid by nearly half in 2011, from $4.1bn to $2.5bn.
The withdrawal of international combat forces by the end of 2014 is likely to hit the already weak Afghan economy even harder with 97 percent of the country's gross domestic product related to the international community's presence. The World Bank has estimated that aid to Afghanistan could drop by as much as 90 per cent by 2025.
Oxfam has urged donors to follow the example of countries such as the UK, Germany and Australia, who have pledged to maintain or even increase aid levels in the coming years - or see the gains that have been made undermined or even reversed.
Almost $60 billion of aid has been given to Afghanistan since 2001. Over that period life expectancy in the country has risen dramatically from 47 to 62 years for men and 50 to 64 years for women, with basic health care now accessible in more than 80 per cent of districts. There have also been significant gains in education with more than 2.7 million girls enrolled in school compared to just a few thousand under the Taliban. However, Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Far too much aid has been poorly spent and too often tied to military objectives or
projects designed to win hearts and minds in the short term, rather than supporting long-term development goals.
"Any significant cuts in support could have dire consequences on Afghan people and we cannot let this happen. While the past 11 years have seen substantial progress, millions of Afghans still lack adequate healthcare, schools, jobs, or law and order. A good hard look at the way aid is spent in Afghanistan is long overdue. Donors need to work harder to address the needs of women and girls, involve local communities in development projects, increase anti-corruption efforts, and ensure projects are designed to be smart, fair and sustainable," said Oxfam's Louise
Hancock, head of policy and advocacy in Afghanistan.
The agency has welcomed recent moves by donors and the Afghan government to improve the transparency and accountability of aid delivery, but said it was vital that Afghan groups play a role in both monitoring these processes and holding their own government to account.
Oxfam warned that although many Afghan women and girls have seen positive changes to their lives, these gains remain fragile. Women and girls still lack access to justice or even basic services: one woman continues to die in Afghanistan every two hours from pregnancy related causes.
Hancock added: "Aid must work much better for women and girls over the next decade. Women have an important role to play in driving development in Afghanistan and helping to create a stable and prosperous country for all Afghans. Donors must ensure women are part of decisions made about the future of their county, from projects in their communities to political processes at the highest level.
"Afghanistan stands at a crossroads, and at Tokyo critical decisions need to be made. Now is not the time to pull back. It is the time to learn from our mistakes and deliver aid projects that the Afghan people need - ones that will have lasting benefits. If we do not, everything that has been achieved at such great cost could be lost."
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All images copyright Lalage Snow/Oxfam 2012