Focus on poverty reduction and local ownership critical to successful aid in Afghanistan

By mborum

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WASHINGTON, DC — A report released today by international relief and development agency Oxfam America found that US foreign aid in Afghanistan is failing to reach its full potential because it is short-term and security goals are being emphasized over a coordinated and effective strategy to reduce poverty.

"President Obama has said that promoting development is an essential part of the strategy for Afghanistan. But our development tools need major reform if we want them to deliver results," said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America.

"Our foreign aid must focus on poverty reduction and empowering Afghans to lead their own development, which is the surest way of meeting Afghan needs," said Offenheiser. "The Obama Administration has an important opportunity to enhance the effectiveness of US aid to Afghanistan—and other countries—by creating a US national strategy to support global development.

"The strategy must have clear objectives for all US foreign aid: focus on fighting poverty, streamline and coordinate all sources of US funding, and give recipients the lead in determining the needs of their communities."

The Oxfam report, Smart Development In Practice—Field Report from Afghanistan, is based on a series of interviews in Kabul with individuals involved in the delivery of US aid, including employees of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), other foreign donor contractors, consulting companies, Afghan and international nongovernmental organizations, as well as Afghan government officials.

According to interviewees, there has been limited success in part because the US uses foreign aid to achieve short-term or security objectives. The report also identifies insufficient US support for long-term capacity building and an excessive volume of funds absorbed by private contractors. Agriculture and rural trade sectors, which are critical to the daily lives of Afghans, have not received the focus and resources they require.

However, the report also highlights success stories, where development initiatives have had clear development objectives and a high level of local ownership. One example is the Afghanistan community midwifery program, started in 2002 by the government of Afghanistan, which USAID is funding.

The program, trains women as midwives to improve chances of both mother and child surviving childbirth, and has begun to reduce some of world's highest maternal and neonatal mortality rates. With the help of the program, the number of facilities with skilled female health workers increased from 39 percent in 2004 to 76 percent in 2006.

The real success of the program can be seen in the active participation of individuals and communities: there were huge number of female volunteers for the program, often supported by their fathers and husbands; and women who are trained by this program can go on to earn good salaries in health clinics around the country.

"Programs like this show how critical local ownership and engagement are to the success of foreign aid projects. If we work closely with Afghans, and ultimately give them more control over their own development initiatives, we dramatically improve the chances of achieving positive change," said Offenheiser.