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Failed States Need Outside Aid, Local Leadership to Recover

Countries overwhelmed by conflict, disaster or poverty pose a serious risk to world stability. Liberia, Afghanistan and Haiti are some of the so-called failed states trying to rebuild after years of conflict. As VOA's Nico Colombant reports from Liberia's capital Monrovia, getting back to normal often involves outside help and strong local leadership.

This market in Monrovia is being renovated so the backbone of the country's economy, market vendors in the city, can prosper.

Jenna Sheriff, a vendor who sells dried fish, says with a roof over her head and better working conditions, sales are up and she can now feed her family and send her children to school.

Several workers are hard at work renovating the market, under the supervision of project manager, Steven Waters.

"Our officials, they traveled to different areas and countries and they saw development," he said. "So they wanted to do the same here. After the reconstruction, people will come from other countries and they will see Liberia has a good market."

Information Minister Laurence Bropleh says he believes good leadership has ended Liberia's status as a failed state.

"Not only is it over. But the sustainability for the long term for our peace process can be assured," he said. "Liberia is quickly becoming a post-conflict success story. I always say to people that Liberians have risen from a valley of despair to a buoyancy of new hope. That hope comes with transformative leadership."

Post-war president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf promised much when she took office in 2006, but it has been slow going.

Government budgets, including salaries for civil servants and expenditures on schools and infrastructure, depend on foreign aid and fundraising on the Internet.

Afghanistan, for example, is also recovering from a difficult period. It is relying on outside aid to restore basic services and schools. Programs backed by the U.S. government helped repair more than 1,500 kilometers of roads.

Democratic U.S. Congressman Adam Smith says infrastructure projects make a difference in a country's recovery.

"There are businesses out there that are successful, but a lot of the time, they had to get a road built by the government in order to make sure they had the infrastructure," he said. "They had to get a fiber-optic built. They had to get bridges built. So I think assistance does help these countries become less failed, if you will, and prosperous."

But there are many cases where assistance fails.

In Haiti, another country trying to recover from years of instability, containers of food aid were recently discovered rotting in the nation's ports, held up by bureaucratic delay. There have also been concerns in Haiti that donor food has undermined the country's food industry, depleting investment over the long-term.

Jane Holl Lute, a senior U.N. official involved in peacekeeping activities, says local involvement in allocating aid is crucial.

"We have to remember that it is first and foremost the people again in these communities, in these societies, that should set the pace and the direction and tone of the recovery. It is our job to help," she said. "When we substitute our judgment, we tend to go wrong."

Lute says it is important to remember helping a failed state on the road to recovery can be long term, costly and full of obstacles.