Background: Rebuilding Afghanistan
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SPENCER MICHELS: Afghanistan is a devastated country. Ten years of Soviet occupation in the 1980s, civil war in the 1990s, five years of Taliban rule and three years of drought have left the country with no basic infrastructure and a decimated economy. There are few paved roads and thousands of unexploded land mines that maim about 3,000 people every year. Many of the buildings in the capital, Kabul, have been destroyed. Almost two thirds of the power lines don’t work. And it can take over an hour to make a local phone call. The Taliban, before departing, emptied the central bank, plundering more than $5 million. Government workers have not been paid in more than six months. About two thirds of Afghan adults are illiterate. Many schools have only recently reopened. And women and girls are just now being allowed back in classrooms. One third of the population depends on donated food to survive, and half the children are chronically malnourished. One in four children dies before reaching age five.
To help bring Afghanistan back from the brink, now that the U.S.-led anti-terror war is winding down, some 60 countries pledged more that $4.5 billion. That’s about half of what the United Nations suggested for a rebuilding package. At a two-day meeting in Tokyo that ended yesterday, the assembled nations promised to deliver $1.8 billion this year. Much of the money will not go to the newly formed interim Afghan government, but instead through humanitarian organizations. Even so, Afghanistan’s new interim leader, Hamid Karzai, expressed immense satisfaction.
HAMID KARZAI: We are happy with the result of the conference that we had yesterday and today, and I hope we can go back to our people to give them the good news. And I also hope that the pledges that were made by the international community are made true immediately in the coming days so that we can begin the process of reconstruction and take the country forward.
SPENCER MICHELS: At the Tokyo meeting, the United States pledged nearly $300 million, but many countries have warned the donated funds should not go to local Afghan warlords. Much of the $4.5 billion is to be disbursed over the next several years. It will go toward security, public health and education, government and economic management, infrastructure, and agriculture and natural resources. But there are lingering concerns about security. United Nations peacekeepers patrol in Kabul, but safety in much of the rest of the country is problematic. There are daily reports of armed bandits attacking aid workers and stealing food rations. Karzai promised the money would be used appropriately.
HAMID KARZAI: I will make sure, sir, that the money that comes for aid is not utilized by individuals or by anybody, that it goes to the Afghan people. And if it doesn’t go, you will see that we will make it known. There is no way that that can be allowed.
SPENCER MICHELS: Participants in the Tokyo conference agreed on the urgent need to disburse the money quickly, especially to get the new government functioning.