Remarks by the Director of the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs Alex Thier on The State of Afghanistan

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Thank you for having me here today.

It's a pleasure to speak with you, especially since we're less than a week away from the Tokyo Conference where the international community and Afghans will convene to discuss important decisions about the future of civilian assistance to Afghanistan.
 

Tokyo and Beyond

 
In Tokyo, the international community and the Afghans will come together to discuss the best way to solidify the progress we've made in the past decade.
 
The timing of this conference is significant because it some so quickly on the heels of the G8 in Chicago that focused on the 2014 transition. 
 
As we all know, there are really two transitions in 2014 - the transfer of security operations to the Afghans, and also the first democratic transfer of power in the history of Afghanistan. 
 
The Tokyo conference is a significant milestone, because after the conference we'll have a much better idea of what development in Afghanistan will look like in the future. To avoid the mistakes made in the past, the Afghans have to get these two transitions right. 
 
For that to happen, the international community and the Afghans have to be on the same page. The purpose of this conference to ensure we are indeed on the same page. 
 
This starts with frame of mutual accountability. Both the donors and the Afghan government have to be accountable to each other. 
 
The topics likely to take center stage at the conference will be…
 
The concrete steps that Afghans will need to take to reform their government.
 
The Afghan government's prioritized strategy for economic development. This is important so that civilian aid can be targeted toward the country's most urgent needs.
 
How the international community will need to pledge to help Afghans maintain the gains from the past decade.
 
How to improve regional investment and attract private investment. This is a crucial element to development in Afghanistan, because Afghanistan's long term prospects for stability and prosperity will depend on private investment and regional integration, not civilian assistance.
 
Perhaps one of the most important issues we will discuss in Tokyo is mutual accountability. It is important for Afghans to know that we will hold up our end of the bargain, but the international community also needs to know that Afghan are going to make the reforms needed to increase the effectiveness of assistance and their ability to increasingly take leadership over the development of Afghanistan.
 

A Decade of Development Progress

The U.S. government has spent approximately $14 billion on U.S. civilian assistance in Afghanistan. It sounds like a lot, but it's roughly equivalent to 4 to 6 weeks of military spending in Afghanistan. 
 
For that money, here is an account of what we've accomplished in partnership with the Afghans and the international community.
 
A decade ago, Afghanistan ranked among the world's lowest for literacy and life expectancy and the world's highest for infant mortality. 
 
A third of the populations were refugees, and more were leaving.
 
Another third were dependent on food aid from the international community for their survival.
 
And half of the population, Afghan women, were about to be plunged into darkness and destitution by the Taliban.
 
Today, many aspects of life are better. GDP has increased by 8 -10% annually and per capita income has risen from $200 to $500 per year. 
 
Afghan domestic revenues have climbed -- something for which USAID can take substantial credit because of our assistance to the Afghan government in centralized collection system.
 
USAID's work in the power sector has helped bring 24 hour electricity to Kabul. We can also take credit for DABS increasing revenues from $39 million to $159 million.
 
Education - 8 million children enrolled in school today, more than a third of which are girls, compared with 900,000 boys in 2001. 
 
USAID has contributed by building or repairing more than 600 schools - in addition to other assistance to the education sector. 
 
Women - a decade ago women were not allowed to attend school. Today, there are ministries led by women. 
 
The Afghanistan Mortality Survey - a landmark comprehensive health study that USAID helped support - was released last November. The survey shows:
 
Adult life expectancy has increased from approximately 44 to 62 years -
likely the largest increase of any country in the world in the last decade; 
 
Maternal mortality is now less than 500 deaths per 100,000 live births, 3
times lower than the 1,600 deaths out of 100,000 live births reported by
UNICEF in 2002; and 
 
64 percent of the Afghan population now has access to a health care facility,
up from less than 10 percent a decade ago. This last point is the critical linchpin from which there have been other health gains. In partnership with the Afghan Ministry of Health, USAID has helped support the increase in access to health care facilities. 
 
These improvements often get overshadowed by the security situation, but it's important to pause and realize how far Afghans have come.
 
Lessons Learned
 
It's not my intention to paint a rosy or oversimplified picture of civilian assistance in Afghanistan. I've been engaged in Afghanistan issues for nearly 20 years, but my role at USAID has given me a true appreciation for just how complicated development really is.
 
Certainly, not all projects been successful, but we have learned from the challenges.
 
Over the last 18 months, USAID has been adjusting both our programming and our business model to ensure that our portfolio reflects the most cost?effective priorities. 
 
A3 - launched in fall 2010 to ensure proper procedures to protect assistance dollars from being diverted from their development purpose through extortion or corruption;
 
Increased staff to over 380 to provide increased oversight;
 
Towards transition we are investing in those areas that are sustainable in line with Sustainability Guidance - cost effective and achieving results but also that the Afghan government and/or donors have an interest in sustaining
 
Investing in operations and management over building new infrastructure
 
Despite the improvements to civilian assistance, we will surely face unforeseen challenges in the future, but I believe our assistance to Afghanistan is the most effective it has been to date. 

Video From the event

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM EDT Brookings Institution Washington, DC

Last updated: February 12, 2014

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