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March 30, 2004 - BBC News (UK Web)

Why Afghanistan Wants $27.6 Billion

The Future of Afghanistan Will Be High on the Agenda

By Andrew North, BBC Kabul correspondent

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Ask someone to name the poorest country in the world and most people would probably say somewhere in Africa.

It might surprise them to discover that on many measures, it is Afghanistan that has this dubious distinction.

Around 70% of Afghans live on less than $2 a day.

The country's infant mortality rate of 257 per 1000 births puts it way below even the poorest parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

Perhaps as surprising is that it is the Afghan government highlighting these bleak figures - governments do not usually play up their country's downside.

But highlighting the downside is exactly what the administration of President Hamid Karzai is doing this week, as it prepares for a two-day conference of donor nations hosted by the German government in Berlin.

In January 2002, a similar conference in Tokyo pledged $5.2bn for Afghanistan's reconstruction.

Now the Afghans are telling representatives of more than 50 governments attending this meeting that without a major increase, all the progress made since the fall of the Taleban could be in jeopardy - especially with the growth in the illegal drugs trade.

The US Secretary of State Colin Powell and the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, will be among those listening.

It Is Feared That Heroin Production May Increase

The price tag for this support, according to the Karzai government, is $27.6bn over the next seven years.

The figure is based on a detailed assessment of the country's key needs, covering everything from repairing key roads to building up the Afghan army.

It is a small sum, Afghan officials say, compared to the $13bn annual cost of keeping US forces and international peacekeepers in the country.

Yet even as they point out that the report - 'Securing Afghanistan's Future' - has been widely endorsed by donors, those officials are trying to dampen down expectations.

It will be a "success if we get around $11bn over three years," says one.

But the threat from the illegal drugs trade is growing fast, with almost 70 per cent of farmers saying they intend to increase cultivation of opium - the raw ingredient for heroin - this year.

Drugs Trade

Some fear the country could become a "narco-state", because of the huge revenues it generates - an estimated $2.3bn last year, more than 50 per cent of the value of the country's legal gross domestic product ( GDP ).

Afghanistan - the Poorest Country in the World?

Recent factional fighting in Herat, in western Afghanistan, has drawn attention to another persistent problem - the continued grip on power of various regional warlords, with their own private armies.

Many are also believed to be involved in the drugs trade.

The UN special envoy to Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, warned last weekend that "as long as weapons are in the hands of rival factions, there simply is no guarantee that security will exist for the citizens in their daily life and for an election."

Warnings like this meant President Karzai had little choice but to postpone elections from June to September, a decision he announced just before setting off for Berlin.

This and the fragile security situation across Afghanistan will be the other key items on the agenda.

The government argues that only with more outside help can it tackle all these issues.

And according to Dr Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan finance minister, even if the country receives all the aid it is seeking it would only "lift Afghans from dire poverty to poverty with dignity."

The international community will demonstrate how much it buys all these arguments with its pledges this week.

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