Despite the best intentions, foreign aid often goes awry in countries overwhelmed by war.
Jack Healy, writing in Monday’s New York Times, offered a vivid, and depressing, example of governments rushing in to help people without carefully weighing all of the issues, in his story of the small village of Alice-Ghan in Afghanistan.
“ALICE-GHAN, Afghanistan — This tiny village rose from the rocky soil with great hopes and $10 million in foreign aid, a Levittown of identical mud-walled houses built to shelter some of the hundreds of thousands of Afghans set adrift by war and flight.
“Five years later, the village of Alice-Ghan and those good intentions are tilting toward ruin. Most of its 1,100 houses have been abandoned to vandals and the lashing winds. With few services or jobs within reach, hundreds of residents have moved away — sometimes even to the slums and temporary shelters they had sought to escape…
“The settlement, a little more than an hour’s drive north of the capital, Kabul, on the border with Parwan Province, is one of 60 scattered across the country. It has become a demonstration of the miscalculations and obstacles that have thwarted so many similar efforts to tackle huge problems like poverty, hunger, illness and dislocation in Afghanistan. “
The problems facing the U.S., Australian and Afghan government attempts in Alice-Ghan include a lack of basic services like electricity and running water, cultural misunderstandings and corruption.
These problems are similar to those elsewhere, like in Iraq, which resulted in the loss of millions, if not billions, of dollars and contributed to the enormous suffering of people there and also helped drive at least 2 million Iraqis out of the country.
Michael Shank, writing in The Guardian last month, summed up the problem with corruption and other misguided efforts regarding foreign aid rather well: Continue reading