Senate Report on Afghanistan Foreign Assistance Includes Positive Signs, Despite Challenges
June 9, 2010 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs George Ingram and Jim Kolbe:
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Report on Afghanistan assistance released yesterday contains some signs of progress, as well as compelling evidence that the Obama Administration’s efforts to reform U.S. foreign assistance are moving in the right direction. That said, we agree with the report’s conclusion that policymakers must create a long-term development strategy for Afghanistan that is more comprehensive and accountable. We continue to need a similar strategy, which was promised in last year’s Presidential Policy Directive on Development, for broader U.S. efforts to alleviate poverty, improve public health, and spur economic growth in poor countries. In both strategies, policymakers need to make clear distinctions between assistance for security purposes and assistance for development.
Despite the challenges and shortfalls noted by Senate investigators and the intense media focus on the negative aspects of the report, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the direction of U.S. development efforts and policy in Afghanistan and more broadly:
- The authors “recognize the value of foreign assistance in achieving our national security objectives,” while noting that slashing foreign assistance “is not the most prudent solution” and emphasizing the need for adequate State Department and USAID resources “to ensure a smooth transition” in Afghanistan;
- The report applauds Administrator Shah’s reform initiatives, including USAID Forward, which are bolstering monitoring and evaluation around the world, overhauling procurement practices, and focusing more on building local capacity to deal with development challenges – all of which are at the root of the shortfalls in foreign assistance outlined by Senate investigators;
- The report also highlights U.S.-backed Afghan development programs that “exemplify the goals of being ‘necessary, achievable and sustainable:’”
- The National Solidarity Program, which “promotes subnational governance by setting up community development councils and training them to manage small-scale projects funded by block grants,” has been successful in part because of its “transparent, standardized, and streamlined” disbursements, local ownership of development initiatives, and “strong monitoring and evaluation.”
- The Basic Package of Health Services, which provides public nutrition and maternal and child health services on levels ranging from community health posts to district hospitals, has increased health coverage rates to 85 percent in 2008 (from only 9 percent in 2003) nationwide and reduced infant mortality by 26 percent.
- The number of children attending school in Afghanistan has increased sevenfold over the past decade.
We applaud SFRC Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) and his committee staff for producing this timely and thorough report and urge policymakers to continue supporting both Afghan development programs and the Obama Administration’s overarching foreign assistance reform efforts, which aim to make U.S. assistance more effective, accountable, and results-oriented.
To read MFAN’s updated foreign assistance reform agenda, visit www.modernizeaid.net.