Afghans to ask for $50 bln aid at Paris conference

KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan will ask international donors for $50 billion in aid at a conference in Paris next month, President Hamid Karzai’s senior economic advisor said.

Afghanistan is one of the world’s poorest countries and depends on aid for 90 percent of its spending as it tries to rebuild an economy shattered by 30 years of war and also fight off a Taliban insurgency that killed 6,000 people last year.

International donors have pledged some $24 billion at three donor conferences since 2002, but the level of aid to Afghanistan is still many times lower per head than to other countries struggling emerging from conflict such as Kosovo or East Timor.

After the toppling of the Taliban by U.S.-led and Afghan forces in 2001, both the international community and Afghan officials underestimated the scale of damage to the economy and infrastructure and also did not foresee the re-emergence of the Taliban and the ongoing burden of fighting the insurgency.

“We did not know the level and depth of destruction of this country,” Ishaq Nadiri, Karzai’s senior economic advisor, told reporters late on Tuesday.

“The Afghan disaster was complete,” he said. “The level of destruction was unlike anything I have seen in the developing world with the loss of human capital, physical capital and social capital.

“The collapse of Afghanistan was total, so now we have to build on all fronts simultaneously,” he said.

SECURITY, INFRASTRUCTURE PRIORITIES

To complicate matters, Afghanistan has to deal with more than 60 major donors — countries and international organizations — each with its own agendas and priorities, resulting in development efforts that are piecemeal, fractured and full of inefficiencies, analysts say.

The appointment of Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide as the U.N.’s special envoy in March was intended to bring better coordination of international efforts in Afghanistan.

Kabul has now also drawn up a 5,000-page national development strategy, overseen by Nadiri, setting out its goals which it is to present to the June 12 Paris conference hosted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Of the $50.1 billion the Afghan government is seeking, Kabul wants more than half spent on security and infrastructure, the lack of which hamper almost every level of economic development.

But it is far from certain whether donors will come up with such a large amount of funds.

Of the $24 billion pledged since 2002, aid agencies say only $15 billion has so far been spent and some 40 percent of that returns to donor countries in profits and salaries.

Major donors have failed to fulfill their pledges of aid and the Afghan government has been unable to spend some of the funds due to poor security in areas where they were targeted.

“We hope to get it all, but we may not,” said Nadiri. “You know pledges are one thing and donations are another.”

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