On the tenth anniversary of the NATO-led military invasion of Afghanistan (7 October 2011), opinion research conducted nationwide by the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR) shows that health and education services provided to ordinary Afghans are patchy and often of poor quality.
Responding to Afghans’ concerns, an international coalition of over 120 NGOs is now calling on the international community to chart a fresh direction for reconstruction, ahead of the major summit between Afghanistan and its international partners on 5 December 2011 in Bonn, Germany.
Interviews conducted among a cross section of men and women in 14 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces have revealed that while many Afghans have welcomed the new clinics and schools that have been built, there is widespread dissatisfaction about the quality of services they provide.
In most of the areas surveyed, people said that no effective emergency health services exist, while a lack of competent clinical staff has led to regular misdiagnosis and resulting deaths. Some clinics remain shut for days at a time.
Research respondents said that although more students are going to school, the quality of education is very low, many schools are badly underequipped, often with no text books, and a lack of teachers means children sometimes have to teach themselves.
The research also revealed higher public expectations, including from parents wanting to send their children to school – even in the traditionally more conservative South and East of the country.
One father commented: “Before, we were not interested in educating our sons and daughters, because we did not understand the importance of education, but [now] … we want to send both our sons and daughters to school, but there are no schools and no teachers in our areas.”
“Huge amounts of international aid – a total of $57 billion since 2001 – have been spent in Afghanistan, and there has been some important progress as a result, especially in urban areas. But this research highlights the gap between positive rhetoric and grim reality. Behind the headline numbers there lies a picture of people struggling to reach clinics which lack medicines or doctors, and schoolchildren trying to learn without textbooks or classrooms,” declared Anne Garella, Director, ACBAR.
A growing fear of violence and of military activity from all sides also prevents people getting access to basic services, research respondents said.
The interviews uncovered stories of attacks on medics and teachers - and of students, especially girls, being harassed or kidnapped on the way to school. Raids on, and searches of, clinics, as well as roadblocks and checkpoints all hinder access to services.
Across all regions, Afghans spoke of their war weariness after three decades of conflict and their strong desire for a peaceful settlement which they saw as crucial to their chances of being able to study, work and have hope for a better future. But they were unaware of any national or international processes to achieve this.
Responding to these concerns of Afghans, an international coalition of humanitarian and human rights NGOs is calling on the foreign ministers meeting in Bonn in December to:
· Commit to strong, sustained levels of civilian-led, humanitarian and development aid to Afghanistan, building on the fragile achievements of recent years, but refocusing efforts on boosting the quality of services rather than just creating visible infrastructure - and ensure strong measures are in place to guarantee open and accountable use of development funds.
· Secure support from the international community to ensure that Afghans of all backgrounds and representatives of civil society can play a meaningful part in any process to secure a long-term settlement to end the conflict - including women, who have often had little say in the past - while ensuring that respect for human rights and justice are central to any agreement.
· Take further measures to ensure that all those involved in the Afghan conflict (international forces, Afghan security forces and armed opposition groups) uphold their obligations to prevent harm to Afghan civilians - especially women, whose access to services is hit most by insecurity and military activity, and health workers and teachers, who have been the target of attacks.
The call for action is being backed by a series of protest events in six capital cities (Paris, London, Berlin, Oslo, Stockholm, The Hague) of countries which will take part in the Bonn conference in December.
Supporters will fly giant kites at key locations with the slogan: ‘Afghanistan ten years: Time to get it right’ to launch their campaign to secure strong international commitments at the Bonn Conference.
“Ten years of engagement in Afghanistan has not brought about the results that Afghans and the international community want to see. We need a concrete change of direction that will give the Afghan people a safer, better future. The Bonn Conference is just two months away. We are calling on our governments to encourage an inclusive and transparent process that will lead to a legitimate agreement for long term peace in Afghanistan,” said Paul Valentin, the International Director at UK-based international development agency Christian Aid.
ACBAR is the largest independent grouping of relief agencies in Afghanistan, with 111 member NGOs, 60% of them international and 40 per cent Afghan.
The research is based on 48 moderated in-depth discussion groups held between July 2011 and September 2011. Interviewees included men and women of a range of social backgrounds, young people, disabled people, local decision-makers and public workers, and Kuchis (nomads).
Research was conducted in Kabul, Parwan, Bamiyan, Takhar, Nangahar, Ghor, Kandahar, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif, and participants also came from Kunar, Laghman, Sar-e-pul, Samangan and Wardak.