From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Afghans must lead country's reconstruction, aid worker says

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Fri, 7 Dec 2001 13:50:34 -0600

Dec. 7, 2001  News media contact: Linda Bloom7(212)870-38037New York

NOTE: Photographs are available with this story.

By Paul Jeffrey*

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (UMNS) -- As Afghan mujahadeen warlords turned into
politicians in Germany and agreed on an interim plan for governing their
violence-torn homeland, members of Action by Churches Together (ACT) geared
up for an expanded role in rebuilding the Central Asian nation.

Staff of Norwegian Church Aid and Christian Aid, both members of ACT,
participated in a Nov. 27-29 "Conference on Preparing for Afghanistan's
Reconstruction," held in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Other ACT
members include Church World Service (CWS) and the United Methodist
Committee on Relief.

Sponsored by the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program, and the
Asian Development Bank, the meeting was a preliminary discussion of
long-term plans to aid Afghanistan's reconstruction, a task that World Bank
officials privately estimated could cost as high as $25 billion.

It's important to talk now about money for the beleaguered nation before the
world moves on to other priorities, according to Geir Valle, director of
Norwegian Church Aid/ACT's work in Pakistan and Afghanistan. "This is
Afghanistan's 15 minutes of fame," he said. "It's important to get access
now to the resources that the Afghans are going to need to begin to put
their country back together."

Yet Valle said it wasn't up to international financial organizations to
decide Afghanistan's fate. "This will never work unless Afghans are in the
driver's seat. They have to be the ones making the decisions."

In a daylong follow-up meeting in Peshawar on Dec. 1, CWS leaders joined
with Norwegian Church Aid/ACT and Church Aid/ACT in discussing with 10
Afghan non-governmental organizations the expected expansion of relief and
reconstruction work in coming months. The meeting marked a new effort by ACT
member organizations to work together in a coordinated manner on the ground
in Afghanistan and within the refugee community in Pakistan.

Participants in the meeting said the Afghan organizations asked the ACT
network for capacity building opportunities, including workshops on themes
such as organizational development and the SPHERE Project on minimal
standards for humanitarian work.

The partner groups expressed concern that, given the expected lack of
qualified development professionals in a post-Taliban government, many
Afghan NGOs could lose their most qualified staff to higher-paying jobs in
the new government or to international organizations expanding their Afghan
operations, said Nick Guttman, Church Aid/ACT emergency manager. ACT members
committed themselves to helping the Afghan NGOs retain the most qualified
staff, he said.

Participants also discussed the need for development strategies to be
designed by the Afghans themselves, thus avoiding "donor-driven scenarios
that don't always correspond accurately to the reality on the ground," said
Kjell Helge Godtfredsen, Afghanistan emergency response director for
Norwegian Church Aid/ACT. Effective reconstruction strategies will have to
take advantage of the aggressive entrepreneurial spirit among Afghan traders
and business people, he said.

The challenge of Afghanistan's reconstruction is daunting. As many as 10
million land mines litter the landscape, most remnants of Russia's murderous
misadventure there, and now thousands of unexploded cluster bombs from the
U.S. bombing campaign daily take lives and limbs. The country has no central
government in Kabul, the capital city. Housing is ravaged, farms untended,
irrigation systems destroyed, schools closed and teachers - mostly women -
displaced or exiled.

Local money markets, which act as the Arab world's banking system, are
looted, roads are a mess, communication is a nightmare, and winter is coming
on with a vengeance, closing off entire areas of the country for the next
several months. And the drought isn't over.

ACT members are confronting the challenges by expanding their work in the
region. While efforts to support refugees in Pakistan and internally
displaced families inside Afghanistan continue, despite lingering problems
of communication and security, new efforts are emerging. Norwegian Church
Aid/ACT, for example, in cooperation with Afghan partner organizations and
U.N. agencies, will soon expand a program of helping refugees cope with the
psychological and social problems they often face.

The task of rebuilding Afghanistan is going to take longer than many expect,
according to Mirza Ali Nazim, director of the ACT-supported Afghan Rural
Rehabilitation Association. "During the last 24 years of war, our children
have grown up without education. They've grown up with war all around them,
they've trained for war, and they think that life is killing," he said.
"It's going to take time to rebuild not just the physical infrastructure,
but also the minds and spirits of people who have become too accustomed to

Nazim insisted that Afghan women must be included in the reconstruction

"A lot of educated women have just been sitting around in their houses in
Afghanistan, unable to contribute because of the Taliban," he said. With the
exception of the mujahadeen faction led by former President Burhanuddin
Rabbani, he added, "everyone in Afghanistan wants women to participate in
governing and rebuilding their country." 
# # #
*Jeffrey is a United Methodist missionary assigned as an information officer
for Action by Churches Together in Pakistan.

United Methodist News Service
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