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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/19/09

Oxfam Warns Obama of Disaster in Afghanistan, Targets Louis Berger Group

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In an unusually strongly worded letter to President Obama, the major non-profit organization at the center of relief and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan has warned that the country is "sliding into a major humanitarian crisis" which could undermine significant peace initiatives now underway between major Taliban factions and the Karzai government.  

Oxfam America said:

events have reached a critical juncture in Afghanistan and conditions could deteriorate further unless the United States takes a lead in addressing failures in governance, aid and reconstruction...

A humanitarian crisis, affecting large parts of Afghanistan, is emerging due to an accumulation of factors, including widespread insecurity, a severe 2007-08 winter, high food prices, drought, and a high volume of returning Afghan refugees...As a result of these factors, many Afghans are facing some of the worst conditions they have experienced in twenty years.

In Khers Khana village in Ashterlai...With no nearby health clinic and widespread malnutrition, eight children from the village died over the last year from preventable diseases. Families in Dakundi and all over Afghanistan are being forced to take exceptional measures to support their families such as selling their animals

Oxfam tells Obama that to remedy the situation money must be shifted away from large private contractors like Louis Berger Group and Kellogg-Root-Brown, and toward basic infrastructure projects like water and irrigation, which hire Afghans for labor and puts cash into their hands immediately.  This has also been the prescription of Jobs for Afghans.

The Oxfam 10-point plan to save Afghanistan states:

A large proportion of Afghans are food insecure, which is due to a range of factors, but has been exacerbated by insufficient support for agriculture and rural development. Even though 80% of Afghans depend largely on agriculture to feed their families or make a living, this sector receives only a fraction of international funding. With the exception of alternative livelihood programs, support for agriculture comprises less than 5% of USAID's budget for Afghanistan since 2002; in 2007, agriculture funding comprised less than 1% of US assistance for the security sector.

As food has become increasingly unaffordable for millions of poor Afghans, malnourishment and micronutrient deficiencies are fast becoming major health threats for children under five, and pregnant and lactating women. An estimated 54% of children under five are stunted and 39% are underweight, while 21% of women of reproductive age are malnourished.

Less US assistance should be channeled through private contractors. USAID allocates nearly half of its funds to five large US contractors, and while contractors are needed in the reconstruction process, excessive amounts of aid continue to be absorbed in corporate profits,
especially within the layers of sub-contracts...As an example of extraordinary costs, in 2005, USAID contracted the Louis Berger Group to construct a short stretch of road between Kabul center and the international airport.

The Louis Berger Group then sub-contracted the project to the Afghan Reconstruction Company, and the road was constructed at a cost of over $2.4 million per kilometer, at least four times the average cost of road construction in Afghanistan.

Jobs for Afghans has put forth an "Emergency Works Program" which aims at hiring hundreds of thousands of Afghans for a daily cash wage immediately, to cope with 40-50 percent unemployment and rising food prices.  The plan outlines:

   *Focus on digging paths for "pipeline" infrastructure with hand-tools, meaning thousands of miles of trench which will carry basic water, electricity, and sewage pipeline, which is the foundation of rural infrastructure.  Pay a cash day wage of $10 per day, which is an excellent wage in this country.

   *Prioritize Kabul's unsanitary open-trench sewage system, potential to hire thousands of workers in easy-to-secure environment.

   -Dovetail the Military Strategy, Focus mission on using forces to protect work crews rather than chasing Taliban around the countryside. Minimizes civilian casualties.

Jobs for Afghans argues that the infusion of capital to poorest segment of society will jump-start the informal economy, as Afghans use funds to buy vendor stands, taxis, and other means of earning income, and distribute income through the tribal-clan structure to other Afghans.

Obama seems to be moving on Afghanistan.  The question is, is he moving fast enough.  The window for peace opened by last week's overtures by Mullah Omar is shrinking, and soon other smaller but even more radical Taliban leaders will have a fresh pool of recruits, who join solely for the Taliban wage of $8 per day.  Please forward this to your congress member and the White House, make sure Obama hears.  The tragedy is this is one war we can get out of if we move fast.   LINK TO CONGRESS EMAILS.   LINK TO EMAIL WHITE HOUSE.

"Roughly 70 percent [of Taliban] are involved because of the money, because they are getting paid." - Joe Biden last week in Brussels

Oxfam report (Reuters)


Jobs for Afghans

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Ralph Lopez majored in Economics and Political Science at Yale University. He writes for Truth Out, Alternet, Consortium News, Op-Ed News, and other Internet media. He reported from Afghanistan in 2009 and produced a short documentary film on (more...)

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