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USAID: Agency Working Expeditiously in Afghanistan - 2002-04-11

The U.S. Agency for International Development says it is moving faster in Afghanistan than in any other country since the agency began more than four decades ago. These comments come one day after interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai said international aid money pledged to the country has been too slow in coming.

In Washington Thursday, USAID administrator Andrew Natsios said the agency has been working as quickly as possible on its reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.

"Ten weeks is a very short period of time," he said. "AID has never moved this much money in this short a period of time in a reconstruction effort in the last 40 years. It's very unusual. It usually takes a long time to set up the infrastructure, to bring the equipment in, to have the staff come in, to set up the housing units to staff people, to have places for people to live. It usually takes six months to a year to start up."

For Mr. Natsios, a recent Tokyo donors' conference raised normal, but overly ambitious aid expectations. "People come back and say we just got pledged $4.5 billion, and some people who haven't been through this before expect a check for that much money to all of a sudden appear in the national treasury," he said. "Of course, there is no national treasury. There is no banking system. There's no place the ministries are bombed out. We're just now beginning to repair some of the buildings. So, there's a capacity issue."

Criticism of the pace of international aid efforts in Afghanistan has come from no less an authority than interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, who told international aid officials in Kabul Wednesday that reconstruction money is flowing too slowly to his country. Mr. Karzai also admonished aid donors from shying away from major infrastructure projects.

Mr. Natsios said AID's projects in Afghanistan have focused on restoring food security, re-opening schools, improving health conditions, re-integrating former combatants and strengthening the interim Afghan government

He pointed out that much of this work is intangible and cannot be seen. "For example, when you do training, I mean where's the evidence of it? Some people think in the government that reconstruction is only buildings and roads, and those need to be done," he said. "But we need the textbooks, too, and we need the seed distributed, and you don't see once the seed's distributed, you don't see it anymore it's in the ground, it's planted."

The AID head said the agency's part of the overall pledge was $168 million. And more than 60 percent of this money has already been obligated, which he said means the contracts have already been signed and the money has already been moved.