By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The development slowdown in Afghanistan is especially unfortunate given that, up until last week, the struggle to rebuild postwar Afghanistan had been going reasonably well. “We’ve built 39 schools in the country,” says Medway, his voice brightening. “Some of them hold thousands of kids. We’ve been working on a big reproductive-health program in one of the northern provinces, training 200 traditional birth attendants in such things as learning to identify and respond to difficult pregnancies. We’ve been training vaccinators and vaccinating the population against measles and tetanus, and we’ve repaired over 100 miles of roads in rural areas — bridges, culverts, reinforcing roads that were eroded by war. We’ve been pleased with the progress.”
For now, however, all that work has stopped. Even without the security risks, the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan may have to wait until the Iraqi crisis is solved. “It’s draining all the money out of the system,” says Walden. “I was in Nicaragua two weeks ago, and the head of the U.S. relief agency there said his budget was in free fall — despite the post–Hurricane Mitch pledges for assistance, they were being ignored.” He laments the fate of humanitarian groups that remain dependent on such sources as USAID. “In 24 years of doing this, the single worst development in the relief field is making it all into a government contracting business. With the exception of us and a couple of Quaker groups, just about everyone — from Doctors Without Borders to Save the Children — gets U.S. money.
“They’ve been turned into ambulance chasers,” Walden maintains, “chasing the next war to get money. And then you say, ‘What happened to that women’s-development program in Southern Africa?’ But how can you worry about that when all your resources are going to places where people are fleeing a war?
In light of the vast opposition around the world to the U.S.-led war on Iraq, the close association between the U.S. government and the humanitarian-relief agencies is also complicating matters for non-allied countries that would otherwise contribute to relief efforts, but don’t want to appear as though they support the U.S. cause. “We haven’t seen the same level of donations coming from Europe for preparations that we normally would,” Rastegar says. “It’s all become very politicized.” He emphasizes that Relief International is currently more focused on security than on fund raising, but “We definitely need money,” he admits. “There’s not as much funding for preparation as we usually would expect.”
Medway, for his part, is looking toward the future. “We’re still building up our Afghanistan program this year and diversifying it,” he says. “As a humanitarian organization we hoped this conflict with Iraq could be resolved peacefully. But as people with our heads screwed on who understand reality, we’re hoping the war is over just as soon as possible so the situation in Afghanistan can calm down.”