Monday, May 4, 2009

Aid waste and corruption

Patrick Cockburn, one of the finest foreign correspondents in the world, is in Afghanistan:

Living High on the West's Largesse
By Patrick Cockburn

KABUL, May 1 - [...] The high degree of wastage of aid money in Afghanistan has long been an open secret. In 2006, Jean Mazurelle, the then country director of the World Bank, calculated that between 35 per cent and 40 per cent of aid was "badly spent". "The wastage of aid is sky-high," he said.

"I was in Badakhshan province in northern Afghanistan which has a population of 830,000, most of whom depend on farming," said Matt Waldman, the head of policy and advocacy for Oxfam in Kabul. "The entire budget of the local department of agriculture, irrigation and livestock, which is extremely important for farmers in Badakhshan, is just $40,000. This would be the pay of an expatriate consultant in Kabul for a few months." ...

[M]uch of the aid money goes to foreign companies who then subcontract as many as five times with each subcontractor in turn looking for between 10 per cent and 20 per cent or more profit before any work is done on the project... (link)
Although the picture he paints is bad enough, Cockburn doesn't even mention another aspect of the problems of humanitarian aid delivery in Afghanistan. Namely, the militarization of aid.

As we saw last week, however, there is evidence that Western militaries in Afghanistan have managed to severely distort the context for the delivery of aid. In public opinion surveys, around half of Afghans in Kandahar and Helmand say they oppose the presence of foreign aid organisations. Those looking for a place to point the finger for such a disturbing state of affairs need look first toward the Western militaries and their PRT's and other "aid" delivery projects. And of course aid agencies themselves can repeat an 'I told you so' or two.

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