Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Guest blogger: Rebuilding Afghanistan, Part 2 

This is second part of the account by guest blogger Rob of his work in reconstruction of Afghanistan. For part one click here.

How has the reconstruction of Afghanistan progressed?

This is the question being asked by Afghans themselves and the international community who has been funding the reconstruction these past few years. I frequently read in the Western press that Afghanistan has been forgotten because of the Iraq war. I also hear from local leaders and my Afghan friends that they don’t see where these billions of dollars donated to Afghanistan have gone. I agree that frequently the money isn’t always used efficiently and some projects have been less than successful, but I decided to step back and compare the difference 2.5 years has made in the area I know best, Dawlatabad.

My statistics aren’t based on grandiose claims made by donor countries, NGOs or the Afghanistan Interim Administration, but from what I see on the ground. I think this is the best judge of what has really happened. Most of the credit should be given to the Afghans themselves, who have endured hell and are still standing and finding new ways forward. With that said, I also believe the combined efforts of the Afghanistan Government, UN agencies and international and national NGOs has had a considerable impact for good in Dawlatabad.

One of the first major programs in the spring of 2002 was the national Back to School Campaign. Supported primarily by the people of Afghanistan, but also by CAFE in Dawlatabad and UNICEF throughout the country huge steps were taken to make education available again to both girls and boys everywhere. I remember during this time speaking to a village leader that said they would not allow girls to attend school, but slowly those ideas changed and his village now boasts of a girls school with around 900 students in total!

By mid-2002, approximately 10,000 children were attending school in Dawlatabad District. By 2004, this number has swelled to over 14,000 students, in 18 official schools, being led by 377 teachers and organized by a more professional education department. The salary of all of these teachers is a part of the support provided by the international community. In addition CAFE provided chalk boards, school supplies for students and teachers and all of the forms needed for the administration of the different schools. UNICEF provided text books printed by USAID and other school supplies for the students and teachers.

Adults in Dawlatabad also expressed a keen interest in learning to read and write as a new era was dawning in Afghanistan. In 2002, over 1200 women had organized and asked CAFE to help them form literacy courses. In cooperation with the provincial literacy department and Save the Children U.S.A. 67 courses were organized for these women. Soon after that women from other villages began to request courses and then the men began asking as well. By 2004, through CAFE alone approximately 4,000 adults had participated in literacy courses in the district. Other NGOs have also organized literacy courses in Dawlatabad during this time, but I don’t have access to their statistics. Needless to say, in a country where the rural literacy rate for women is somewhere around 5-10% great strides have been made.

In 2001, the district had only 3 usable school buildings and these had no chairs and were in pretty poor condition. Now in 2004, the district currently has 7 schools meeting in buildings with 3 more under construction as I write. Three of these are brand new buildings with three more to be completed by Fall. By the end of this year over half of the schools will be able to study in suitable facilities!

Most of the international aid effort in 2002 was slanted towards emergency relief efforts. For the entire calendar year the World Food Program through a national NGO ensured that every family was provided 50 kgs of wheat, 12 kgs of pulses and 5 liters of cooking oil per month. This helped many poor families to just survive the year until harvest time. The following winter another distribution of the above amounts was provided for 3 months for the poorest 5% of families in the district through CAFE.

In January 2002, CAFE, in response to requests by the villagers in Dawlatabad procured 104 metric tons of improved wheat seed and 180 metric tons of fertilizer to provide seed for 1,000 plus farmers trying to recover from the draught. Over the next 2 years an additional 130 metric tons of improved wheat seed was provided for farmers on a loan basis in order to reestablish the supply of wheat seed in the district. The district is once again largely self sufficient in food production and no longer faces the food shortages of 2001. Calculating an average harvest rate of 35 per kg of wheat per 1 kg of seed, the amount of wheat harvested in 3 years through this program would have been 6,300 metric tons of harvested wheat. This money is spread throughout the district because the landless families work on the farms of more wealthy land owners for their livelihood.

Also as a part of the emergency relief programs in the winter of 2001-2002, CAFE provided winter clothing and bedding for the landless families which are the poorest in rural settings. This included blankets, clothing, shoes, socks and warm hats for the children. About 3000 families were included in these distributions.

In 2002, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Afghanistan Development Agency (ADA) began a large project to connect the district center to the provincial center and to create one good road that connects the other villages to the district center. Approximately 30 kilometers of some very poor road was leveled and then graveled to create a significantly improved transit route through the district. What at one stage was a 1.5 hour drive is now down to 30 minutes or less. Also all of the labor for the road construction project and the school constructions also has come from the district market and thus been a benefit for the local economy.

In 2002, UNHCR, in order to support the massive return of refugees to Afghanistan designed a shelter/water program in areas of high refugee return. In Dawlatabad, being a high refugee return area, this meant that 400 families who were either recently returned refugees or very poor families from villages with many returnees were provided materials for constructing a 2 room house. As a part of this project water was also highlighted as an issue and 100 hand dug wells with hand pumps were installed throughout the district. This project was implemented by Samaritan’s Purse with some help from CAFE in the digging of wells.

In 2003-2004, the National Solidarity Program was begun countrywide by the Afghanistan government’s Rural Rehabilitation and Development. Dawlatabad District was one of 3 districts chosen from the 14 districts in Balkh Provinceto participate in this program. Based on the size of the village, somewhere between $30,000 and $60,000 will be given to a development committee formed by the village to use towards solving needs that they have determined themselves. Many villages are using this fund to set up large generators and wire the village for electricity others are graveling roads from their village to the main district road. The impact of these projects is just now beginning to be felt, but the villages are highly engaged in the process.

Also a large group of international agencies, donor agencies and the Afghanistan Government are looking at the needs for reconstructing the irrigation system in the north which supplies water to over 500,000 citizens in the rural areas. Structural and technical research has been carried out as well as socio-political research has already been carried out to determine the best course of action for this rehabilitation. In 2004, a several year $10 million project should begin to provide solid engineering and structures to the current system which is in disrepair. This will not solve the water problems in the North, but will be a large step in the direction of providing "fair" distribution of the available water resources.

Stay tuned for the last part of Rob's account of reconstruction. If you want to contact him directly, email txtrain2004 "at" yahoo "dot" com.


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