Thursday, October 28, 2004

Guest blogger: Rebuilding Afghanistan, Part 3 

This is third, and final, part of the series by guest blogger Rob, relating his personal experiences and impressions of reconstructing Afghanistan. You can find part one here and part two here.

Strengths and shortcomings of the impact of international aid in Dawlatabad

On the positive side much was done to help this economically devastated area to survive the draught and get back on their feet again. Realize that into this draught stricken area large numbers of refugee families returned during the year 2002, to further strain a depressed economy. The emergency food aid helped people survive that year and the agricultural programs helped farmers get back on their feet and become self-sufficient once again.

The Afghans in this area stressed the need for improved traveling conditions on their roads to both the district center which is where the main market is and also to the city of Mazar. The roads constructed have vastly improved transportation times to both of those locations although one more road needs to be repaired to speed up transportation from one side of the district to Mazar. The road is not paved, but 3 years later it is still far superior to the road before hand. Individual villages still need better access to these graveled roads and hopefully one day soon there will be paved roads to the district centers.

Afghans in Dawlatabad stressed the need for education to be a priority in reconstruction. They felt that one of the lessons learned from the years under the mujahadeen and the Taliban was that education is critical for the development of their lives and country. An increase in students from at best 2,000 to 14,000 and all of the administration that goes with that is impressive. There are still huge issues with the quality of education and the training of teachers as well as suitable classrooms for the students, but progress is obvious. By the end of 2004, half or more of the schools in Dawlatabad will be meeting in a school building and 5 of those will be brand new.

Along with 14,000 children in school at least another 4,000 adults have attended literacy courses with good results. Just considering literacy statistics for the country and assuming only half of the children and adults who attended courses have become "literate", the literacy rates in the district will have more that doubled in that time and the statistics for women would have quadrupled or more.

Water was a critical need in the area during 2002 and much was done to improve access to potable water during that time. A hundred new shallow wells and about 15 deep wells were dug to provide easier access to better water. Before the villagers mostly drank from the irrigation ditches, but they dried up during the draught and now 4 or 5 months of the year the ditches are dry. Many of these wells are not being used now because the water table has dropped or minor repairs are needed, but the communities have the capacity to repair them if they make it a priority. Many of the deep wells were not successful because either the water turned bad or the well itself collapsed or the pipes became clogged.

Mazar today

A couple of months ago I was thinking back to our early days here and remembered the weekly coordination meetings led by the UN. In those days the topic of discussion was almost always the identifying of areas where the population was starving and help had not yet arrived. I reflected on my normal trips to the village where most of the requests were for emergency food aid. As I was pondering these things I began to notice the differences in Mazar as well. Whereas before I couldn’t find a computer printer anywhere in town, now I would guess Mazar itself has at least 15 or 20 stores all selling computers. I talked to people coming in from the villages, not to beg for food or work, but to buy a small generator so they could watch TV in the village. Businesses are bustling from the impact of outside investment combined with the ingenuity of Afghan businessmen. The 47 IDP camps from 2 years ago are a distant memory with all of the people having been returned to their place of origin.

People walk the streets now with much less fear of being attacked by gun toting "soldiers". In fact you can now travel around in the city and not see any of these "protectors" of Afghanistan. This is a different world than the one I arrived in 2.5 years ago.

Factional tension still exists here and rears its ugly and bloody head from time to time. The rule of gun still overrides the rule of law in most places. Women’s rights, human rights for that matter, have progressed slowly. The streets in Mazar remain in terrible repair. Kabul’s influence isn’t easily felt in this part of the country. Disarmament is still more a theory and a goal at this stage. But what did you expect in a land where most of the "open minded", well educated and well off have fled some time during the last 25 years and still are waiting to see what happens. The really large projects like road construction, nationwide education projects and issues of governance all require time and don’t have simple solutions. Much of the investment from the large donors has been focusing on these critical areas of national and local governance and policing. Do we have a long way to go still? Without question.

I’ve spent many long hours pondering nation building and development as I’ve watched the efforts of the international community and read the commentaries from the Western and local press. I’m amazed that people would think that in 2 years the ideas of villagers from rural, ultra-conservative Afghanistan would instantly change and they would quickly join the modern world. The very essence of the word "development" implies the necessity of time. Development requires change that is essentially springs from within the people. This means great amounts of attention on education, infrastructure and maybe most importantly patience and persistence. Think of how many generations it took for change to take place in Western countries. Let’s help the Afghans find their own way, but not on our time table. These cannot be ideas imposed from the outside on the Afghan people. Ask the Soviets what happens when you try that!

If you want to contact Rob directly, you can email him at txtrain2004 "at" yahoo "dot" com. A warm thank you to Rob for sharing his experiences, and kudos to him for his hard work to make a difference on the other side of the world. Let's hope the work of his and many others will eventually bear fruit in Central Asia.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?