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Afghan Reconstruction Could Cost $1.2 Billion - 2001-11-23


In Washington this week, 20 donor countries and organizations met November 20 to assess what will be needed for aid and reconstruction in Afghanistan. The needs of Afghanistan are huge.

The World Bank says Afghanistan will probably need $1.2 billion of aid annually for 10 years. The Washington based development institution has not lent to Afghanistan during its 20 years of war, turmoil and repression. It is now preparing a major program, once a new government is in place.

Alastair McKechnie, the bank's operations director for South Asia, says, once food aid has reached people, agricultural rehabilitation will be a top priority.

"The first challenge is to get food to remote communities this winter because there has been drought," he explains. "Crops have failed. People have been so desparately poor, they have no seed to plant. And, therefore, there will be a major humanitarian effort."

Mark Bertolini of the International Rescue Committee believes that the collapse of Taleban rule in Afghanistan means food aid will now reach needy people, and that famine can be averted. He, too, agrees that agriculture must be the top priority of international assistance.

"The entire infrastructure of the country has been destroyed. In agricultural areas, their irrigation systems - their rather simple irrigation systems - have been destroyed," he says. " Land mines are a huge problem. Afghanistan has the largest amount of land mines anywhere in the world."

The World Bank's Alastair McKechnie says micro-credit programs, like those used successfully in Bangladesh, can probably be effective in Afganistan. Such programs are decentralized and small scale, and allow local institutions to fund the livestock or seed requirements of individual farmers. Mr. McKechnie, speaking on cable television's C-SPAN, believes decentralization is essential, if aid money is to be effective and not stolen or diverted.

"The more the people are involved in the reconstruction of the country, the more they're going to make sure that they get the money, the resources, the education, the health, the clean water that they need," says Mr. McKechnie. " The whole record of development programs that are managed very centrally in reaching the people has not been very good. And that's why we think non-governmental organizations, the private sector are going to have a major role to play in the reconstruction of Afghanistan."

Ken Bacon, the former U.S. defense department spokesman who now heads Refugees International, says U.S. leadership in providing aid is essential.

"We can apply through our government and through our aid agencies, NGO's etcetera, some good humanitarian leadership and direction. So, I think, we're all united here in believing the United States has to play a major role in helping Afghanistan get back on its feet," he says.

Japan, the biggest bilateral donor to Afghanistan, will host a follow-up aid conference in January. By then, it is hoped, Afghanistan will have a functioning government, and more specific aid requirements will have been identified.