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:
“In war after US war, cases abound regarding fraud, corruption, kickback schemes and bribery, and, more generally, completely ineffective reconstruction and stabilisation strategies, which do more to escalate insecurity and exacerbate conflict than provide stability. Nevertheless, they face little accountability and oversight at home.
“Despite reprimands from the wartime contracting commission and convictions by the various inspectors general throughout the defence and state departments, the culture of corruption continues among our contractors. Washington must root out corruption, end war-profiteering by US contractors and ensure that American taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently and effectively abroad. Most of all, we must restore America’s faith in how we spend our hard-earned dollars, be it in Afghanistan or Angola, Iraq or Indonesia, Libya or Lesotho.”
A new report released in June by the Eisenhower Research Project based at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies said:
“Nearly 10 years after the declaration of the War on Terror, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan have killed at least 225,000 people, including men and women in uniform, contractors, and civilians. The wars will cost Americans between $3.2 and $4 trillion, including medical care and disability for current and future war veterans… If the wars continue, they are on track to require at least another $450 billion in Pentagon spending by 2020.”
Obviously, governments want to help people in war zones as quickly as possible, but the costs are high, in terms of lives and money. Perhaps plans for aid should be thought out long before plans for war.
Of course, it’s a given that aid, and often massive amounts of aid, will be needed to help people recover and rebuild following any kind of armed conflict. However, even in Iraq where an invasion was on the books long before it actually happened, war planners — from the Pentagon to the State Department to the White House — had absolutely no blueprint for what to do once the major battles ended.