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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2868

U.N. Threatens to Go to Bill Gates with Begging Bowl?

By Thalif Deen, Inter Press Service

United Nations , 01 July, (IPS): The United Nations, which has expressed disappointment over the slow disbursement of development aid to crisis-stricken Afghanistan, has hurled one of its biggest political insults at Western donors: threatening to turn to a U.S. philanthropist for financial assistance.

The ministry of agriculture in Kabul has asked for an "urgent contribution" of 5.5 million dollars for the purchase of wheat seed to allow farmers to plan next year's crop. But in spite of a number of appeals, there has been no response from Western donors.

"We cannot end up in a situation where we have to turn to Bill Gates (founder of Microsoft and one of the world's richest philanthropists) to meet urgent requirements of this nature," Kai Eide, the U.N.'s special representative for Afghanistan, told the Security Council, striking a note of sarcasm.

"I hope that donors will review their procedures to enable us to meet such requirements," he told delegates Tuesday.

While most donors have been funding security projects, agriculture and infrastructure have remained "seriously under-funded".

"Afghanistan is a poor country, but not destined to poverty," Eide said. "It has vast mineral resources, including the largest iron ore reserves in Asia."

With impending presidential elections in August, Afghanistan is gearing itself for increased political violence in the run up to the polls.

"I have called on the international community to avoid any interference or appearance of interference in the election process," Eide said.

Any such interference, he warned, would undermine the legitimacy of the process itself and the people's confidence in its future leaders.

The United States has implicitly expressed its dissatisfaction with President Hamid Karzai, who is running for another term in the presidential elections scheduled to take place Aug. 20.

The charges against the president include mismanagement and corruption.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has participated in several donor conferences, including one in The Hague last March, where pledges were made by over 80 countries and international agencies, to help rebuild the war-ravaged South Asian country.

Japan has provided over 300 million dollars in aid to Afghanistan, including assistance equivalent to the salary of the entire police force for half a year.

Canada has pledged over 35 million dollars over three years to support the 2009-2010 presidential and provincial council elections. It has provided an additional 12 million dollars for the Law and Order Trust Fund to help pay salaries of new police recruits.

Since 2006, the Netherlands has provided over 250 million dollars, one-third of which was spent on a single province: Uruzgan.

Afghan Ambassador Zahir Tanin told the Security Council Tuesday that in the past eight years, Afghanistan has grown from a country devoid of society, government or infrastructure to one with thousands of miles of roads, millions of children in school, and access to basic health care for 85 percent of the population.

The international community has also helped build, train and equip an army and police force that has been trying to strengthen security amidst violent attacks by Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents.

But "despite more focused and unified goals, our development efforts remain fragmented, inefficient and incomplete," he told delegates.

Poverty in Afghanistan has increased and unemployment has turned out to be of the country's biggest challenges.

"Governance, corruption and rule of law remain weak and need sustained attention from both the government and the international community," he pointed out.

In a 14-page report to the Security Council, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says that following a donor conference in Paris in June 2008, the United Nations identified five sectors that would be essential for Afghanistan's long-term economic growth.

But these sectors, including agriculture, energy, private sector development, capacity-building and higher education and vocational training, have received "insufficient attention from donors", the report complains.

The Afghanistan National Development Strategy assumes that between 2008 and 2013, over 75 percent of Afghanistan's budget will be financed by donors.

"This situation is unsustainable and illustrates the need for the government to boost its own revenue collection."

The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has estimated that between 700 million and one billion dollars are still spent without being reported appropriately.

"There is growing awareness of the critical importance of proper reporting in order for aid effectiveness and coordination efforts to succeed," the report adds.

- Asian Tribune -

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