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August 20, 2009 11:44 AM

Local groups say Afghanistan needs non-military development plan

Posted by Kristi Heim

As Afghanistan holds its presidential election today, optimism has been dampened by a lack of progress in development on the ground, say leaders of a local humanitarian group active in the country.

While completing peaceful elections would be a positive step, "Afghans I've spoken with don't feel invested in these elections because they're not seeing progress or a viable government in their own communities," said Christine Beasley, country program manager for World Vision, a Federal Way-based group that has worked in Afghanistan since 2001 with a staff of 250 on the ground, mostly local Afghans.

The Christian aid organization decided to pull its 15 foreign staff members out of the country temporarily over security concerns during the election period. They plan to return at the end of August. Local staff are suspending operations and restricting their movements.


COURTESY OF WORLD VISION

An Afghan woman in Badghis Province and her children shell pistachio nuts, earning less than a dollar for every eight kilograms shelled. The province has 300,000 acres of pistachio forest.

Currently uneven distribution of aid, lack of donor coordination and some duplication of services are weakening reconstruction efforts, Anderson said.

World Vision is calling for more attention to economic development, saying civil society resources to support education, jobs, good governance and agricultural alternatives to the poppy trade are crucial to progress.

The U.S. government needs to create a clear development strategy for Afghanistan that is separate from the Department of Defense's counterinsurgency strategy, the group said.

A coordinated development strategy means, "measuring the number of children in school and the content and quality of their education, not just the number of insurgents defeated," said Rory Anderson, World Vision's deputy director for advocacy and government relations.

Gen. David Petraeus, the head of the U.S. Central Command, spoke about the challenges ahead in Afghanistan at a talk in Seattle last month. Later this month, my colleague Hal Bernton will be reporting from Afghanistan and writing a blog from there.


COURTESY OF WORLD VISION

Women at a sewing workshop run by World Vision in Herat, in western Afghanistan near the border with Iran, are the sole breadwinners for their families. Yet they can't disclose their names for fear of reprisals for working outside the home.

"An economic development strategy is not the same as a counter-insurgency strategy--although the end goals may align, the operational approaches are very different and they follow different time frames," said Anderson. "If a free and peaceful Afghanistan is the goal, forcing square pegs into round holes won't work."

Without a distinct development strategy, "the 'civilian surge' is understood to be a military surge, which by itself will not help Afghans take control of their own country," she said.

Another local group working in Afghanistan to address the effects of war is Clear Path International. In Afghanistan nearly a million people are disabled, many because of land mines, according to Clear Path, a Bainbridge Island-based non-profit that helps land mine and bomb survivors.

Clear Path supplies prosthetic devices, builds handicap access ramps in schools in Kabul, advocates for the rights of disabled and provides employment for land mine victims through its Afghan Mine Action Technology Center, which makes de-mining equipment. The center sells the products at a lower price than international suppliers charge, and it uses the revenue to support rehabilitation services. Read more about the group's work here.

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