FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”

Photo Source DVIDSHUB | CC BY 2.0

Next time you shudder at a another vulgar tweet of spiteful malevolence from the President of the United States, please try to console yourself by reflecting that there are decent people in the world who try to do their best to assist those who are deprived, poor and needy.

A long time ago I was in the United Nations Military Observer Group in Kashmir, and before I become deputy head I served on what we called ‘Field Stations’ on both sides of the Line of Control dividing that unhappy territory of astonishing beauty and diverse peoples. When I arrived in one of these, called Astore, way up in the mountains on the Pakistan side at about 8,500 feet (and close to Nanga Parbat at 26,660 feet), the Aga Khan Foundation, a singularly saintly organisation, was helping build a pipeline from the glaciers down the mountain to the Astore River, so that electricity could be generated in a station which they also constructed.

They brought electricity to much of the area for the first time, and this was a very big deal in these days. So in between going on ‘Field Tasks’ along the Line of Control to make sure that the area wasn’t being reinforced militarily to a dangerous degree, I chatted with such luminaries as the local village head, the schoolteacher and the visiting Aga Khan Foundation representative, from all of whom I learned a great deal.

The main thing I learned was that if you are helping somebody, make them think they are helping themselves. In fact it makes sense to construct your entire aid project so that those who stand to benefit from it are heavily involved to the point that if there is a problem then it is their problem. Don’t stand above it as a rich and well-meaning donor who chucks money at it and then walks away with a self-congratulatory swagger. Because if you don’t involve the local people in the project — which they very much want to see completed, of course — then disaster looms.

You must encourage them to come up with ideas, without being patronising. Ask, for example, “how do we get the line across that nasty bend in the river around where the glacier ends in summer?”

Now, as project manager you’ve probably got half a dozen engineers who could solve that problem in a heartbeat. BUT: you must ask the local people about it, because when you do what they suggest (OK, maybe tickling it here and there), they are very proud of this and tell everyone it was their idea. The word gets round.  There is a swell of justifiable pride.

Of even more importance: get the locals to themselves suggest that they do the building and other work rather than having it done by imported labour. If you involve residents they will in the future resist any outside attempts to interfere with what they themselves created, even to the point of physical protection. And of course there will be considerable economic benefits, although it is essential, of course, that management and disbursement of monies be closely controlled by the donor body. Sure, you will have to take time and trouble and money to train local tradesmen (concrete-makers, carpenters and so on) but remember — you’re in the improvement business; it all adds up, nationally, to establishment of more skills, recognition that education is important, and, above all, pride that We Can Do It.

In other words — make sure projects are regarded as local challenges and accomplishments. Don’t just throw uncontrolled money at development schemes in the hope that it will all stick, because as we’ve seen around the world, that sort of money tends to stick to people who aren’t interested one bit in improving the lives of their fellow human beings. And nowhere is this more evident than in Afghanistan where, as stated by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), Mr John Sopko, the US has spent $132 billion on reconstruction projects.

A very large proportion of this money has been wasted. Many billions of dollars have vanished into corrupt pockets.  Mr Sopko told Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper that “There is a lot of corruption, [but] most of what we have identified are just head-smacking stupid programs and really poorly managed and no accountability. Nobody is really held accountable for wasting the money.”

In his October 2018 report to Congress the SIGAR was blunt in recording that US money has gone to build medical clinics without electricity or water, schools without children and buildings that literally melted away in the rain. Also, corrupt local officials who were in charge of paying workers with some of the funds created what audits called “ghost workers,” civilian bureaucrats, police and soldiers who did not exist, then kept or diverted money recorded as being paid to them.  It’s a terrible picture, and while it is scandalous that US taxpayers have had their money wasted, it is even worse that the people whose lives should have been changed for the better by all these enterprises are still living in mediaeval squalor — if they haven’t been forced to flee from the violence that is endemic in that war-torn country.

Mr Sopko is dismayed and disappointed that “Even after 17 years of US and coalition effort and financial largesse, Afghanistan remains one of the poorest, least educated, and most corrupt countries in the world. It is also one of the most violent.”

What now?  Is anyone going to try to rectify this appalling state of affairs?  There might be a Trump tweet blaming Obama or France, maybe Canada, for the shambles, but it’s unlikely that he will do anything about the “head-smacking stupid” waste of money. He doesn’t care about human suffering, still less about trying to ameliorate it and improve the lives of countless millions who exist in conditions he can’t even imagine.

We need fewer Trumps and more Aga Khan Foundations in this unhappy world.

 

More articles by:

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail