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Oxfam Urges 'Change of Direction' in Afghanistan

International aid agency Oxfam is calling for a major change of direction by Western countries in their efforts to reduce suffering in Afghanistan. It warns poverty is driving ordinary Afghans into the arms of insurgents and drug gangs. From London, Tendai Maphosa has more in this report for VOA.

In a letter to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and other world leaders, Oxfam says social and economic progress in Afghanistan has been slow and is being undermined by increasing insecurity.

The Oxfam policy advisor in Afghanistan, Matt Waldman, says the security situation has worsened, especially in southern Afghanistan, during the past 18 months.

Oxfam says two years after the international community pledged more than $10 billion of aid to the country, many of the commitments made remain unfulfilled. In the "Afghanistan Compact" the donors and Afghanistan's government resolved "to overcome the legacy of conflict" by promoting development, security, governance, the rule of law, and human rights.

Waldman, who is based in Kabul, told VOA more could be done with the money that has been made available for Afghanistan.

"It is not really a just question of volume, volume of aid that is, what is perhaps even more important is how the aid money is spent," he said. "It is estimated that up to 40 percent of aid to Afghanistan goes back to donor countries and that is through corporate profits of contractors or through high consultant salaries. We have got to try to get more aid to the people of Afghanistan, we have got to try to improve donor coherence, and too much aid is un-coordinated, which has obvious consequences. Too much aid is wasted and not used to deliver real results for the people of Afghanistan."

The Oxfam letter says development is the key to lifting Afghans, the majority of whom live in rural areas, out of their poverty.

Waldman says there has been little aid to the agricultural sector, but it is essential to counter the country's flourishing drug trade, and related criminal activity in Afghanistan and the region.

"There are no quick fixes to the poppy problem in Afghanistan, I would say aerial eradication is wrong, it will drive farmers, the vast majority of whom are very poor and trying to feed their families into the hands of the Taleban and that would be a big mistake," he added. "Likewise, proposals to license poppy production are not workable in this environment. The government does not have the authority in the poppy areas to be able to control this. What I think is the way to move forward in this situation is through supporting a comprehensive approach in which rural development is at the center, because we need to give sufficient support for agriculture so that Afghans are not forced to turn to poppy."

Oxfam's letter follows warnings by the Atlantic Council and the Afghanistan Study Group, both U.S.-based, that Afghanistan could become a failed state if urgent steps are not taken to deal with worsening security and the slow reconstruction.