Monday, June 22, 2015

Afghanistan - What are the facts

The United States has poured over 100 billion dollars into developing and rebuilding this country of just over 30 million people. This is not including the aid and funding provided by its allies. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) say that higher life expectancy outcomes, better healthcare facilities and improved education access represent the ‘positive’ side of U.S. intervention. So from this perspective, the estimated 26,000 civilian casualties as a direct result military action must be viewed as a reasonable price to pay for the fact that people are now living longer, fewer mothers are dying while giving birth, and more children are going to school. However, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) suggests that “much of the official happy talk on reconstruction should be taken with a grain of salt.

John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General, pointed out that funds allocated to rebuilding Afghanistan now “exceed the value of the entire Marshall Plan effort to rebuild Western Europe after World War II….Unfortunately, from the outset to this very day large amounts of taxpayer dollars have been lost to waste, fraud, and abuse. These disasters often occur when the U.S. officials who implement and oversee programs fail to distinguish fact from fantasy.”

USAID has invested approximately 769 million dollars in Afghanistan’s education sector and the number of enrolled students from an estimated 900,000 in 2002 to more than eight million in 2013. Sopko claimed that a top USAID official believed there to be roughly four million children in school – less than half the figure on which current funding commitments is based. The education ministry continues to count students as ‘enrolled’ even if they have been absent from school for three years. Two Afghan ministers cited local media reports to inform parliament about fraud in the education sector, alleging that former officials who served under President Hamid Karzai had falsified data on the number of active schools in Afghanistan in order to receive continued international funding. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) office in Kabul, the country continues to boast one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, standing at approximately 31 percent of the population aged 15 years of age and older. There are also massive geographic and gender-based gaps, with female literacy levels falling far below the national average, at just 17 percent, and varying hugely across regions, with a 34-percent literacy rate in Kabul compared to a rate of just 1.6 percent in two southern provinces.

Discrepancies between official statistics and reality are not limited to the education sector but manifest in almost all areas of the reconstruction process. Take the issue of life expectancy, which USAID claimed last year had increased from 42 years in 2002 to over 60 years in 2014. If accurate, this would represent a tremendous stride towards better overall living conditions for ordinary Afghans. But SIGAR has cited a number of different statistics, including data provided by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Factbook and the United Nations Population Division, which offer much lower numbers for the average life span – some as low as 50 years.

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