When dozens of ministers from countries around the world met in The Hague yesterday to talk about the future of Afghanistan, the fate of 8.5 million people hung in the air. That’s the number of Afghans who face chronic uncertainty about whether they will have enough to eat. Already the health of more than a million young children and 500,000 women is at risk because of malnutrition.
Those numbers hit hard when you weigh them against the findings in a new field report from Afghanistan produced by Oxfam America. The report says that the US spends 20 times more in military activities and operations in the country than it does on development. And the money that does go to development isn’t always well coordinated: The report cited one case of two separate contractors, both funded by USAID who, by chance, discovered they were doing almost the same project in the same place.
The day before the ministers gathered for their conference, a flurry of kites—“a symbol of freedom and joy for many Afghans” said Farah Karimi in her blog— filled the air on a beach in The Hague. One of them carried an important message for the high-level gathering. “Afghanistan: People First,” it said.
All 25 million of them.
How do we make that happen?
We can start by improving the way we deliver aid. The strategy needs to be clear, sources of funding need to be well-coordinated, and the focus needs to be on fighting poverty—with Afghans having the chance to help themselves. None of this is going to be easy in a country that has seen nothing but conflict and upheaval for the past 30 years and where insecurity, corruption, poor governance, and weak rule of law continue to present enormous challenges.
But when you read the words of this anonymous Afghan aid worker blogging about Kandahar—his identity has been kept a secret to ensure his safety—the message on the kite flying high over The Hague can’t be ignored: “It is impossible to wash away all of this blood with more blood. The people of Kandahar want to be able to send their children to school without fear, they want their rights protected, and they want infrastructure and jobs. More than anything, the people of Kandahar want peace and security.”