World pledges $2.6 billion to rebuild Afghanistan

Monday, January 21st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TOKYO (AP) _ The world has so far pledged more than $2.6 billion to rebuild Afghanistan _ well short of the $15 billion the United Nations says is needed.

The United States, Japan and the European Union promised about $1.3 billion over three years, or half the aid pledged Monday by participants in an international conference. The money will help Afghanistan do such things as pay the bills of its interim government and clear the country of mines.

At least 25 countries said they were willing to chip in funds, a Japanese foreign ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

He said an overall total was not yet available. Many contributions were small, such as $5 million promised by Turkey over five years, and some countries attached no figures at all.

Few details were given about the rules for spending the aid money. Often, foreign aid must be used to buy goods from donor countries _ in effect becoming subsidies for companies in those countries. Private aid groups have expressed concerns about such conditions.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Secretary of State Colin Powell and others addressing the opening session of the two-day conference promised to stand by Afghanistan's poverty-stricken people as they begin reconstruction efforts expected to cost more than $15 billion over the next decade.

``President Bush has made it clear that the United States will not abandon the people of Afghanistan,'' Powell said after promising $296 million during the current fiscal year.

After the conference, he warned that rebuilding Afghanistan will be more challenging than the U.S.-led military effort.

``There are bad people still out there in waiting, trying to frustrate this,'' Powell said of the reconstruction. ``What's ahead in some ways is going to be far more difficult than what we've seen over the last four months.''

Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said donors must carefully track the money to make sure it is not squandered through corruption.

Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's interim prime minister, made an emotional plea for help.

``I stand before you today as a citizen of a country that has had nothing but disaster, war, brutality and deprivation against its people for many years,'' Karzai said.

He asked delegates to ``imagine a scene much worse than what I'm going to say'' in his speech _ which described the devastated state of Afghanistan after 23 years of civil war, Soviet occupation and Taliban repression.

Participants at Monday's conference, which brought together delegates from more than 80 countries and international organizations, emphasized their intention of following up their initial pledges with longer-term commitments.

European Commissioner Chris Patten said the support must continue even ``when Afghanistan is no longer front-page news.''

But it appeared that the money pledged in Tokyo would fall far short of the target set by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who said $10 billion was needed over the next five years.

``That is the estimated cost of reconstruction, and it is that sum we hope will be pledged at this conference,'' he said.

The top U.N. priorities are establishing an Afghan police force, filling the coffers of the interim government and getting farmers back in the fields to plant crops.

The conference has been billed as a make-or-break chance to rebuild Afghanistan from the ground up and to improve appalling economic conditions partly blamed for turning its fought-over land into fertile ground for extremism.

``I want these people to throw away their guns, to take up farming tools and to shed their sense of insecurity,'' Koizumi said.

Japan, the world's second-richest country, will contribute up to $500 million over the next three years, with $250 million of that disbursed in the first year, Koizumi said.

The European Union will contribute about $487 million this year, of which $310 million will come from member states and $177 million from the European Commission. Britain promised an additional $295 million over five years.

The EU could contribute another $400 million through 2006, but that depends on how much progress toward reconstruction is made during the early years.

The World Bank and Asian Development Bank also pledged $500 million each over the next 2 1/2 years. The Washington-based World Bank said it would inject up to $70 million immediately.

Conference co-host Saudi Arabia added another $220 million over the next three years, while China's special envoy, Wang Xue Xian, said Beijing would contribute $100 million for 2002.

An initial needs assessment recently produced by the U.N. Development Program estimated that $15 billion would be needed over the next 10 years to rebuild Afghanistan's infrastructure.

About two-thirds of Afghan adults are illiterate, half of the children are chronically malnourished and only about 6 percent of the population has electricity. About 3,000 people are maimed by land mines every year, according to the Red Cross.