UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

May 3, 2009

AID AGENCIES LIVING HIGH IN KABUL

Patrick Cockburn, Independent, UK - Vast sums of money are being lavished by Western aid agencies on their own officials in Afghanistan at a time when extreme poverty is driving young Afghans to fight for the Taliban. The going rate paid by the Taliban for an attack on a police checkpoint in the west of the country is $4, but foreign consultants in Kabul, who are paid out of overseas aids budgets, can command salaries of $250,000 to $500,000 a year. . .

The high degree of wastage of aid money in Afghanistan has long been an open secret. In 2006, Jean Mazurelle, the then country director of the World Bank, calculated that between 35 per cent and 40 per cent of aid was "badly spent". "The wastage of aid is sky-high," he said. "There is real looting going on, mainly by private enterprises. It is a scandal." . . .

Whole districts of Kabul have already been taken over or rebuilt to accommodate Westerners working for aid agencies or embassies. "I have just rented out this building for $30,000 a month to an aid organization," said Torialai Bahadery, the director of Property Consulting Afghanistan, which specializes in renting to foreigners. "It was so expensive because it has 24 rooms with en-suite bathrooms as well as armored doors and bullet-proof windows," he explained, pointing to a picture of a cavernous mansion.

Though 77 per cent of Afghans lack access to clean water, Mr Bahadery said that aid agencies and the foreign contractors who work for them insist that every bedroom should have an en-suite bathroom and this often doubles the cost of accommodation.

In addition to the expensive housing the expatriates in Kabul are invariably protected by high-priced security companies and each house is converted into a fortress. The freedom of movement of foreigners is very limited. "I am not even allowed to go into Kabul's best hotel," complained one woman working for a foreign government aid organisation. She added that to travel to a part of Afghanistan deemed wholly free of Taliban by Afghans, she had to go by helicopter and then be taken to where she wanted to go in an armored vehicle.

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