Lashkargah (Afghanistan) : Relief operations in insecure parts of Afghanistan are highly vulnerable to waste and corruption, local officials, residents, aid officials and analysts say.
“The spending imperative, the weakness of the Afghan government, and insecurity have contributed to a high risk of corruption in ‘postwar’ Afghanistan,” stated a July 2007 report by humanitarian think-tank Overseas Development Institute (ODI).
As a result, the relief operation has turned some of its intended beneficiaries into critics.
The residents of several districts in insurgency-hit Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, for example, have accused local officials, commanders and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) of aid mismanagement and corruption.
In one episode, relief supplies were delivered to Nad Ali District in Helmand Province in March after clashes between Taliban insurgents and NATO-led forces.
Intended for distribution to the most vulnerable local people, witnesses say that a few days later they saw a private truck loaded with aid goods heading back to the provincial capital, Lashkargah.
“Government officials and commanders take a big chunk of all aid for themselves and their relatives,” said Haji Sardar Agha, a member of the provincial council in Helmand.
In the city of Herat shops sell notebooks, bags and other stationary kits marked with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) logo. “I can provide thousands of UNICEF notebooks and bags,” boasted Noorullah, a shopkeeper in Herat.
Roshan Khadivi, a spokeswoman for UNICEF in Afghanistan, said: “It’s really a tragedy to see this aid, which was intended for the children of Afghanistan, ending up in markets.”
But the availability of aid items in bazaars does not necessarily prove corruption, observers say.
It can be a sign of badly targeted aid – for example, where shelter is a priority but food is given, or vice versa. Recipients may exchange or sell aid in any relief operation to meet other urgent needs, aid workers say.
UNICEF’s Khadivi says the “missing link” is consistent monitoring of local NGOs and the government bodies through which UN agencies, and other international aid organisations, channel aid to inaccessible and insecure areas.
The ODI report, Corruption Perceptions and Risks in Humanitarian Assistance: An Afghanistan Case Study, commented: “Much of the post-war funding in Afghanistan has flowed through international NGOs, which have then subcontracted work to local organisations. This work is then sometimes subcontracted again. This results in a long chain of upwards accountability that is hard to monitor and offers many opportunities for corruption.”
The report lists four main risk areas: the “urgency to spend”; state capacity; procurement, construction and public works; and poor security.
In Helmand Province – much of which is under the control of the Taliban and external civilian actors have little or no presence – provincial officials acknowledge that fragile state structures are extremely vulnerable to corruption.
“Corruption is a countrywide phenomenon,” said Assadullah Wafa, the governor of Helmand Province. “Unfortunately our efforts to tackle the problem effectively have been affected by unrelenting armed conflict,” Wafa added.
But in dangerous areas, aid organisations have to rely especially heavily on local government and local NGOs to implement projects.
Helmand’s war-affected areas are among 78 districts deemed “extremely risky and inaccessible”, according to a September 2007 report by the UN Secretary-General.
If not properly managed these so called “remote-control” humanitarian and development projects can be acutely susceptible to corruption and waste, Lorenzo Delesgues, the director of Integrity Watch, a Kabul-based think-tank, told IRIN.
“In unstable environments where you do not have access, or no capacity to really control what is being done with your money, you really create a lot of opportunities for mismanagement of aid and sometimes corruption,” Delesgues said.
Some aid providers, however, say they use various strategies to ensure the effectiveness of projects run on their behalf in inaccessible areas.
“Because we recognise this is an environment which fosters theft of assets for reasons that are pretty well understood, we try to overlay multiple verification systems,” said Rick Corsino, the head of the World Food Programme in Afghanistan.
The ODI report documented aid mismanagement and corruption in a protracted humanitarian project in Herat Province, 2001-2003, but also looked at the present situation in Afghanistan.
One of the main conclusions of the study was that there should be increased awareness of the risks of aid mismanagement and corruption among those delivering and receiving humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, said Delesgues, one of the report’s authors.
“There are two people to whom aid workers should be accountable: people who give the money, the taxpayers in donor countries; and the people who receive it, the beneficiaries in Afghanistan,” Delesgues said.