moving from food aid to longterm reconstruction is no easy switch for countries with a humanitarian agenda in war-torn Afghanistan. Canada has committed hundreds of troops and hundreds of millions of dollars to the war effort in Afghanistan. But the Canuck commitment to peace-building in that country is short on money and vision.
While the aid workers toil, some Afghan expatriates say the security situation won't change until there's major international investment in reconstruction.
There were meetings in Ottawa this week about just that question: What should Canada's next humanitarian mission in Afghanistan be?
Dr. Seddiq Weera, an Afghan expatriate and project leader with the Centre for Peace Studies at McMaster University, who had been working to restore civil society in his country prior to September 11, met with Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) representatives.
He says the feds have expressed interest in continuing food aid, as well as rebuilding schools and training teachers. CIDA will dole out the feds' latest $100-million commitment to the relief effort. But CIDA isn't commenting, at least not to reporters, on exactly how it will be spent.
So is this enough of a contribution to effect real change?
"The amount that Canada has allocated is not huge," says Weera. "But it's focused in critical areas."
He says he would like to see Canada shift its focus away from supporting the U.S. hunt for terrorists and toward taking the lead in peace-building and the reconstruction of civil society.
"In an ideal world, we would like to see Canada taking a lead in the civil campaign, in addition to the Americans taking a lead in the military campaign," he says. "Canada is well placed and well respected among Afghans."
The country is in desperate need of a kick-start to its civil infrastructure, among other things.
Weera points out that although the UN promised money to help establish the interim government after its formation in Bonn, money is in short supply, leaving the new Afghan regime without a budget and with civil servants who haven't been paid for months. As well, Weera says, former government officials who want to return to their jobs are finding, believe it or not, that there's no work for them.
Earlier this month, Weera met with hundreds of Afghan expatriates in Toronto who are willing to return to help rebuild their country. He says a database of professionals will be established and made available to the UN.
Khan Rahi, a community development worker and consultant in Toronto, agrees with Weera that Canada should focus on helping to re-establish civil society.
He wants to see assistance go toward establishing Afghan NGOs in communities across the country.
"We need more of these civic organizations to emerge with long-term goals so that they will be structurally sustainable," he says. "And the other thing is to rebuild education in civics, perhaps under the schools."
Like Weera, Rahi is skeptical that Canada's $100-million commitment will be sufficient to address what's been estimated to be a task requiring billions of dollars.
The extraordinary efforts of international aid workers may be in vain if the world community doesn't come up with a long-range plan soon.
Last month the World Food Program moved 116,000 tonnes of food into Afghanistan, preventing mass starvation across the country.
But despite that unprecedented feat, reports persist of local militias and looters hijacking food supplies, and thousands of destitute Afghans fleeing to neighbouring countries in search of relief.
It's difficult to say how much food is actually getting to the neediest and how much has been stolen. But the situation is bad enough that earlier this month the United Nations publicly complained that relief work by several humanitarian agencies was being undermined by warlords.
"The problem now is not that of stocks," Nanda Na Champassak, a spokesperson with the UN High Commission on Refugees in Ottawa tells NOW. "It's a question now of ensuring that it's not going to be looted or stolen or levied by local militia commanders."
Oxfam Canada spokesperson Mark Fried explains that in the current environment, securing safe passage of aid packages often involves delicate negotiations.
"There are places where we've been working for many years and know people who trust us and know who we are, and we're able to work," he says. "And there are other areas where those with guns have changed. It's a question of working out an arrangement with them so that security is possible. It's an ongoing battle." email@example.com