Press Releases

    AFG/195
    ECOSOC/6000
    19 April 2002

    "TANGIBLE PEACE DIVIDEND" ALREADY IN PLACE IN AFGHANISTAN, UNDP ADMINISTRATOR TELLS
    PARTICIPANTS AT SPECIAL BRIEFING

    NEW YORK, 18 April (UN Headquarters) -- "We have done much more, much quicker than many thought possible a year ago", the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Mark Malloch Brown, told the Economic and Social Council this morning as he briefed it on the situation in Afghanistan and international efforts to integrate development and humanitarian activities there.

    Efforts on the ground had produced "a tangible peace dividend" for the people of Afghanistan, he said. They included the "back to school" campaign for Afghan children; efforts to improve the situation of women; salary payments for civil servants in 13 provinces; an approved national budget; and a draft national development framework to be finalized shortly.

    There had been strong international support for the Afghan Interim Administration. For the first time in history, within a month of a government assuming power, the international community had rallied around the needs assessment plan and mobilized resources in support of the country. Reconstruction and relief operations had been a critical breakthrough. Cooperation and coordination between the donors and agencies had improved remarkably.

    Despite the progress, there was "a second Afghanistan", one where the security situation continued to worsen; the capacity of Kabul to manage a national government was constrained; there was an over-bilateralization of assistance; and competition between international agencies for good local staff continued. All UNDP current and future efforts were based on the interdependence of development and peace-building. The challenges for all the partners in responding to Afghanistan’s own priorities remained immense.

    Briefing the Council on the follow-up to the International Conference on Reconstruction Assistance to Afghanistan, held in Tokyo on 21-22 January, Julia Taft, Assistant Administrator and Director, UNDP Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, said that the first major implementation group meeting had taken place in Kabul last week. Afghanistan had been proud to host the event -- the first formal international meeting there. The country had presented its national budget and development framework. It had also demonstrated its sense of responsibility.

    Kabul was benefiting from several UNDP programmes, she said, which ranged from planting trees to removing debris. The reaction from donors had been positive, with the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund receiving significant contributions from the very first day of its existence.

    In the discussion that followed the UNDP presentations, most speakers reiterated their support for efforts to reconstruct the country, stressing the importance of following through with the commitments already made at several international meetings. Speakers agreed that an integrated strategy was needed to achieve further development of Afghanistan, and that Afghan authorities had to demonstrate their readiness to take charge of the process. A number of speakers raised the issue of advancement of women, while others focused on the issue of security. Also raised were the problems associated with narcotic drug production and the large number of unemployed armed men in Afghanistan.

    Briefing by UNDP Administrator

    Mark Malloch Brown, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said that much progress, driven by the Afghans themselves, had been made in the months following the establishment of the Afghan Interim Authority. The commitment of Chairman Karzai and his cabinet to re-establishing a government that would benefit all Afghans had resulted in a fragile sense of unity, 1.7 million boys and girls returning to school, women’s representation in government at the highest levels, salary payments to civil servants in 13 provinces, an approved national budget, and a draft National Development Framework to be finalized shortly.

    In their efforts, he said, the Afghan Interim Authority had received strong support from the United Nations, which had admirably integrated political and security leadership with reconstruction and relief operations, resulting in a common nation-building strategy at the field level. A common working had also been formed which included the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) and the Executive Committee on Humanitarian Affairs.

    The United Nations’ partnership with the Bretton Woods institutions had also improved markedly, he said, with lessons learned from East Timor and other previous cases. In addition, donors had assembled around the preliminary needs-assessment plan in an unprecedented manner, and members of the UNDG have participated together in subsequent Joint Sector Needs Assessment missions that are currently being translated into the Afghans’ National Development Framework. On behalf of that group, the UNDP had played a key role in establishing the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund.

    Donor support had been generous so far, he said, with $1.8 billion pledged at January’s Tokyo conference for the first year’s efforts, and $4.5 billion pledged for the two-and-a-half-year period leading to an elected government taking office. As priorities become clearer, he hoped the pace of reconstruction and implementation would pick up, and that the assistance pledged would materialize in a timely manner. Some $65.8 million had been mobilized by the UNDP, with assistance from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Lakhdar Brahimi, for immediate support to the Afghan Interim Authority in meeting its essential responsibilities. Efforts were also under way to mobilize resources for the longer term reconstruction trust fund, including security and police. Because of the importance of a stable Afghanistan for international and regional security, countries from both the region and the globe had been involved in supporting its reconstruction.

    He said there was a less positive scenario, however, which could begin to dominate if all those involved did not rally in an effective way behind the leadership of Mr. Karzai and Mr. Brahimi. Such a scenario included worsening security because of limited international commitment in that sector, lack of capacity for the Kabul Government to govern nationally, an over-bilateralization of assistance and competition between international agencies for good local staff.

    With that caution in mind, he described some of UNDP’s current efforts in Afghanistan, which built on long experience in community development in that country. Its office, now fully re-established in Kabul, was now focused on providing maxim support to the Afghan Interim Authority in implementing recovery and reconstruction, along with developing long-term capacity in the Government for alleviating poverty. Such efforts, besides those already mentioned, included extensive technical assistance in a range of ministries, especially the Justice Ministry.

    In addition, he said UNDP was implementing quick-impact projects, including the Recovery and Employment Afghanistan Programme, which had already given work to over 9,600 Afghans in rehabilitation projects in 30 sites around Kabul. He described support in the areas of information and communications technology, resettlement of refugees in conjunction with the United Nations Volunteer Programme, and women’s empowerment in conjunction with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). All current and future efforts were based on the interdependence of development and peace-building; with the promotion of security essential for fostering development.

    Julia Taft, Assistant Administrator and Director, UNDP Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, said that from New York, it was really difficult to feel "the real texture" of what was happening in Kabul. Having just returned from last week’s meeting of the Implementation Group, which was held in Kabul in follow-up to the International Conference on Reconstruction Assistance to Afghanistan (Tokyo, 21-22 January, 2002), she could say that the first thing one noticed was that despite overwhelming destruction, economic activity and reconstruction were going on. Afghanistan had been proud to host the meeting of the Implementation Group -- the first formal international meeting in the country. At the meeting, the country had presented its national budget and development framework. It had also demonstrated its sense of responsibility.

    Kabul was benefiting from several UNDP programmes, she continued, which ranged from planting trees to removing the debris. Given an opportunity to work, people could now take care of their families. The salaries provided to civil servants had added to the sense of improved well-being and economic progress. With support from civil servants, the Interim Authority had been able to improve its status.

    The reaction from donors had been positive, with the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (established by the UNDP in partnership with the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank) receiving significant contributions from the very first day of its existence.

    It was hard to imagine, she said, that it was only four months since the Afghan Interim Authority was inaugurated. Only two months remained before the Loya Jirga took place, where some 350 communities would select their delegates to participate in the selection of the new two-year Government. It would be an incredible logistical challenge to the United Nations, but the efforts were appreciated by the people of Afghanistan. Among the goals today was quick disbursement of maximum amount of aid to the people.

    Discussion

    Several speakers reiterated their support for the efforts to reconstruct the country, stressing the importance of following through with the commitments already made at several international meetings. The accent of the briefing was exactly right, one of the speakers said: tremendous progress had been achieved in a short time, but important challenges remained.

    It was said that an integrated strategy was needed to achieve further development of Afghanistan. Afghan authorities had the responsibility to demonstrate that they were ready to take charge of the process, and that was an important aspect of the issue. A number of speakers raised the issue of gender advancement of women in Afghanistan, welcoming the fact that gender issues had been mainstreamed in the activities of the authorities there.

    The focus was also on the issue of security. Several speakers agreed that given the fragile nature of the situation in Afghanistan, all efforts to empower the people and allow them to lead a normal life could be jeopardized, if the international community did not seriously think of maintaining security there. Was there any danger of the warlords opposing the results of the Loya Jirga? One of the aspects of the problem was the issue of unemployed armed men. What was being done to reintegrate them in the life of society and find jobs for them?

    Regarding the donors’ aid, speakers pointed out that it was important to strike a balance between coordination of efforts and letting the donors contribute funds in a way that appealed to them. Questions were asked about progress in redeeming the pledges made by donors.

    Members of the Council wanted to know about the actual situation on the ground and the degree to which United Nations personnel felt threatened. Speakers asked what was being done to achieve the return of refugees. Several touched upon the cultural dimension of the Afghan problem. Within the framework of the United Nations Year of Cultural Heritage, what efforts were being made to address the issue of the destruction of Afghanistan’s heritage?

    Also stressed was the importance of regional cooperation in the efforts to reconstruct the country. What long-term actions did the UNDP envisage to strengthen the cooperation of Afghanistan with neighbouring countries? Among the concerns was production of narcotic drugs in Afghanistan -– what was being done to address that problem?

    UNDP Response to Participants’ Comments

    Mr. Brown said that, by warning against an over-bilateralization of assistance, he meant that it was important to avoid the kind of overly diversified aid scenario, such as those that had emerged in Cambodia and Kosovo. A strong multilateral trust fund was needed, supported by bilateral programmes in a coordinated context. Such bilateral programmes played the important role of giving donors a sense of ownership in efforts.

    He applauded the support voiced for commitments and disbursements. Funding for the Afghan Authority had been reduced for the remainder of the year, and now stood at some $300 million less than had been requested in Tokyo, because of government-capacity problems. There was a sustained, serious engagement of donors for current needs, but commitments would need to increase along with capacity.

    Turning to questions about security, he said that the threat to agency workers was real, but the impact of an uncertain security situation on development was even more severe. Police and military training were, therefore, very important initiatives in terms of development. But the absence of a more complete security arrangement at this time remained a serious problem for overall development. It also meant that narcotics growing, processing and trading could not be prevented. He asked for partnership in both those areas.

    Regarding South/South cooperation, he stressed that the current channelling of support to Afghanistan could provide a model for cooperative, worldwide development efforts.

    Ms. Taft then answered questions about specific support programmes. She said that so far over 350,000 payrolled employees had been paid, but such efforts had not yet been possible in all provinces. The UNDP was working to get teachers paid in the regions, as well, and that would hopefully occur later this month. The Afghan Interim Authority Fund was paying such salaries only during the period of the Interim Authority. Recurrent costs were estimated at $450 million for the next year, with around $85 million expected from the Government itself. In addition, there were huge front-end requirements for immediate humanitarian procurement; for example, the World Food Programme (WFP) had only received pledges for 40 per cent of its needs. Refugee-return programmes also needed immediate funding.

    The budget for the Loya Jirga, she said, was approximately $16 million. For the voting involved, monitors and observers from the Asia Foundation -– and possibly United Nations employees -– would be required, along with transportation. The Loya Jirga itself would take place in Kabul; planning for security was under way.

    The topic of demobilization was at the top of the list in last week’s meeting. The UNDP, in that area, was most concerned with reintegration of ex-military into society through training and other assistance. Around 100,000 people who could benefit from such programmes had been identified.

    Regarding drug eradication, she said clearly it was a difficult and dangerous business; the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) was becoming actively involved. In women’s issues, she emphasized that security was a priority. Women were still in burkas because they were afraid. In this area, hopeful signs included the engagement of the Minister of Women’s Affairs with the international community, and the fact that women would be participating in the Loya Jirga.

    Further Remarks from Participants

    Countries from the region expressed gratitude that all the programmes in Afghanistan were moving forward and were being funded by donors, given their importance to stability in the region. They also reaffirmed the importance of the protection of cultural heritage and the advancement of women. Speakers also emphasized the importance of coordination between agencies and with the Afghan Interim Authority under the national developmental framework of the Afghans themselves. Mechanisms for such coordination needed to be fine-tuned, however, and the United Nations should play a lead role in that effort.

    Speakers requested that information on all efforts in Afghanistan should continue to flow to donors. The importance of South/South cooperation and economic aid in relation to security was also stressed. The Afghan Government, it was noted, was participating in dialogues on macroeconomic stabilization; it was important, for that purpose, that the Government’s current operations were fully financed.

    UNDP Response

    Mr. Malloch Brown emphasized the need to be sensitive to the "legitimate and entirely appropriate" cultural traditions that existed in the country, in particular as far as international efforts to promote the situation of women in Afghanistan were concerned. It was enormously important to restore the cultural heritage of the country and alleviate the now-fractured sense of culture and priorities in society.

    If handled properly, a light and flexible coordinating structure could be created in the country, he continued. Different coordination mechanisms were being considered. As for the general efforts to improve the situation in Afghanistan, he would give them a B grade, which meant that while significant progress had been achieved, more needed to be done to develop a single integrated approach. Of key importance in that respect was the creation of an Afghan-led coordination programme. So far, effective measures had been taken to give Afghan authorities "a real grip" on coordination and management.

    Continuing, he agreed with a statement from the floor that reconstruction required security and vice versa. Training and capacity development were of tremendous importance in that regard. The economic development challenge also remained, and it was important to create jobs for young men. Development assistance should be distributed according to the system of incentives and disincentives, which would award the parts of the country involved in reconstruction and development. That was compatible with the traditional United Nations system. Resources should be used in strict alignment with development needs.

    Ms. Taft said that in follow-up to the Tokyo meeting, there would be monthly meetings in Kabul, and every six months, all interested parties would meet to assess the progress. There was a whole list of the needs, for which donor contributions were being sought. Support was needed for the Afghan Interim Authority Fund, the Loya Jirga, the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, and the police. Also in need of assistance were local non-governmental organizations, and contributions were needed to ensure army salaries.

    Regarding Afghan women and girls, she said that women at all levels were benefiting from assistance programmes, but the assistance they received needed to be what they wanted. "We cannot and should not go faster that what the women of Afghanistan want", she stressed. "We have to be culturally sensitive."

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