Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, December 17th, 2018

International Aid Effectiveness in Afghanistan


International Aid Effectiveness in Afghanistan

Considering the links between aid effectiveness and security, the effectiveness of aid has a major impact on development, peace and stability in the country. Corruptions, lack of political wills, wastefulness, Un-fulfillment of donor pledges and maladministration are the main challenges. Most of the aids have been prescriptive and driven by donor priorities – rather than responsive to evident Afghan needs, priorities and preferences. Too many projects are designed to deliver rapid, visible results, rather than to achieve sustainable poverty reduction or capacity-building objectives. One quarter of all aid to Afghanistan has been allocated to technical assistance – which is intended to build government capacity – yet much of such assistance has been wasteful, donor-driven and of limited impact. In the design or execution of projects, too often the promotion of the capabilities, status and rights of women is an afterthought or perfunctory consideration. Most aid has been directed to the urban centers, rather than to rural areas where it is most needed and more than three-quarters of Afghans live. At a macro level, areas such as agriculture have been under-resourced due to a lack of prioritization.
According to reports estimated that 40% of the aid money spent in Afghanistan has found its way back to rich donor countries such as corporate profits, consultants' salaries and other costs, significantly inflating the cost of projects. For example, a road between the centre of Kabul and the international airport cost over $2.3m per kilometre, at least four times the average cost of building a road in Afghanistan. On the other hand, international community has pledged $25bn to Afghanistan since 2001 but only $15bn has been delivered. According to previous reports by Acbar, an alliance of international aid agencies working in the country, including Oxfam, Christian Aid, Islamic Relief and Save the Children.
At the same time as there are undoubtedly resource constraints in Afghanistan, donors have fallen short on pledges made under the Afghanistan Compact to use more Afghan human and material resources. Over half of all aid to Afghanistan is tied, by which donors often require procurement of services or resources from their own countries. NGOs have a vital role in supporting rural development and are comparatively cost effective. Yet some donors have reduced funding for Afghan and international NGOs, which has limited their ability to support the delivery of essential services, especially in rural areas, and to build the capacities of communities and local government. Donors are failing to fulfill their commitment under the Afghanistan Compact to ensure taxpayers receive value for money. Vast sums of aid are lost in corporate profits of contractors and sub-contractors, which can be as high as 50% on a single contract. Minimal transparency in procurement and tendering processes stifles competition and efficiency. A vast amount of aid is absorbed by high salaries, with generous allowances, and other costs of expatriates working for consulting firms and contractors; and with the recent deterioration in security such costs are increasing. Efficiency is further impaired by excessive donor bureaucracy. However, some changes have been occurred but are insufficient. There is limited donor transparency, and few mechanisms to hold donors accountable, or for effective scrutiny, monitoring and evaluation. The Afghanistan Compact has 77 measurable benchmarks for the Afghan government, but none for donors. Donors are subject to little independent scrutiny; reporting to the Afghan government has improved but is insufficient; and downward accountability to project beneficiaries is limited or non-existent.
There are also disparities in the geographical distribution of aid. This is due to a range of factors, but not least because aid is being used to achieve military or political objectives. A number of major donors direct a disproportionate share of their funds to the southern provinces where the insurgency is strongest; if it were a state, Helmand alone would be the world’s fifth largest recipient of funds from USAID, the US Agency for International Development. These disparities are also reflected in the pattern of combined government and donor spending. The most insecure provinces of Nimroz, Helmand, Zabul, Kandahar and Uruzgan have been allocated more than $200 per person, whereas as many other provinces are due to receive less than half this amount. The resentment which these significant disparities has generated, and the perverse incentives created for secure areas, which perceive that insecurity attracts aid, this approach is dangerously short-sighted and has contributed to the spread of insecurity.
Some two-thirds of foreign assistance bypasses the Afghan government, which undermines efforts to build effective state institutions, especially at sub-national level. This is partly attributable to problems in budget execution, weak governance, inadequate government human capacity and widespread corruption – which the Afghan government and donors over the past years should have done more to address.
It is of great concern that there appears to be a lack of political will to tackle high level corruption.
Nevertheless, there has been an incremental increase in government capacity, for example, in the ministries of Finance and Education, and in improved public financial management systems.
Finally, the impact of assistance to Afghanistan is heavily affected by the wider social, economic, legal, security and political environment; thus, reforms are required in many spheres in order to maximize aid effectiveness. New aids, pledged 15.2bn$, can bring significant difference to Afghan lives, but the aforementioned challenges can severely effect on quality of aid. It is high time that donors and the Afghan government should honestly carry out their historic responsibilities to enhance its effectiveness. Donors should spend aid through Afghan government programs but ensure the quality and ultimate objective of reducing poverty, quality education, demand-driven and accountable to Afghan citizens.

Mohammad Zahir Akbari is the newly emerging writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammadzahirakbari@ gmail.com

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