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Unsustainable development

September 28, 2012

By Tim Foxley

Summary: the announcement of the impending closures of many schools in Helmand due to the inability of the Afghan government to sustain them does not bode well for a range of other development projects in Afghanistan, or indeed the country as a whole…

I still retain the capability to be surprised and depressed by stories coming out of Afghanistan.  This one ties into an earlier post in which I suggested that, on the assumption that sustainable development might be better than just giving out loads of stuff, distributing millions of biscuits to schools might be missing the point.

Here appears to be an even more worrying example of this – schools built by the UK in Helmand for Afghan children are being closed because the Afghan government cannot afford to pay for them after the international community has gone.

 From The Guardian, 27 Sept 2012:

Schools and health centres built by the British in Afghanistan as part of the military’s counter-insurgency strategy are being forced to close down because President Karzai’s government cannot afford to pay for them… a confidential report compiled this year warned that some of the buildings in Helmand were constructed without enough consultation with the Afghan government and without thinking through how they would be maintained.

The report made clear the British “had built too much” in the province, and that this was a consequence of the UK military trying to win “hearts and minds” among the populace.  It is not clear how many schools and clinics will be affected, but it is thought dozens are potentially at risk, particularly in more rural areas.

The really damning part is this quote:

“Of course we built too much,” said one official. “We didn’t think about how the Afghans would pay for it. But it was understandable. Nobody is blaming the military. We wanted to show them what we could do for them, but without regard for sustainability.”

I wonder how many other areas of Afghan development effort are going to slowly decay, fade and otherwise drift the same way in perhaps less high profile subjects (roads, water, agriculture, political development…) and further flung, less high profile, parts of the country.  This sort of story may slip under the radar and generate less attention than security issues.  But, of course, a worse fear is that this is the way that the Afghan National Security Forces will go, once the funding and training starts to slip…

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