Today at the London Conference on Afghanistan, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah are presenting their vision for reform in Afghanistan and appealing to the international community to maintain support for the country’s development path despite the withdrawal of combat troops. As our recent report Afghanistan beyond 2014: Aid and the Transformation Decade shows, international spending on humanitarian, development and security has had a mixed record over the past decade and is at a critical juncture as the country faces ongoing development, humanitarian and economic challenges.
The need for continued development and humanitarian assistance
The question likely to be asked of international donors is how and to what extent they are prepared to provide financial support to Afghanistan over the next decade.
Major resource flows in Afghanistan in 2012
Notes: The figures used are from 2012, the latest year where comprehensive figures are available. Sources: World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), Council of the European Union, the US government, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC)
Development and humanitarian spending has been dwarfed over the past ten years by international military and security spending. However, the volume of development and humanitarian assistance have been significant – Afghanistan has been the largest recipient of overseas development assistance (ODA) between 2007 and 2012, receiving US$6.7 billion in 2012. At time of writing (4 December 2014), the 2014 UN coordinated humanitarian appeal was 64% funded, making it the second highest funded appeal.
The question now is whether development and humanitarian spending will be cut back alongside military spending by governments whose attention has turned to crises elsewhere. The scale of needs in the country remains acute, as the UN Humanitarian Response Plan for Afghanistan for 2015 underlines. According to the plan, around 7.5 million people are still estimated to require assistance, with 3.8 million prioritised. The 2015 appeal has requirements of US$405 million in humanitarian assistance for 2015, a figure roughly comparable with that of 2014 (US$406 million).
The importance of linking relief with longer term development in Afghanistan
However, as the overview explains, the humanitarian response focuses in on the most acute life-saving needs with the aim that vital resilience activities will be carried out by non-humanitarian stakeholders including development and economic actors. Therefore the focus on economic development at yesterday’s side events will also be important in developing livelihood options and building resilience in populations vulnerable to risk of crisis and disaster. As our report explains, there have been important improvements in some basic development indicators in the past decade, notably access to basic health services, which reached 82% of the population in 2012. These gains, however, have been hard won and remain fragile.
A focus on security continues to be necessary
Not only does the withdrawal of foreign troops raise concerns about sustained international community engagement, but the provision of security and conflict prevention continues to be a necessary aspect of the international response. Conflict and insecurity underpin all three of the key priorities in the 2015 UN Humanitarian Response Plan for Afghanistan, although most relevant will be the priority to reduce conflict related deaths and impairment. As data in the Response Plan shows, the numbers of civilians killed or injured by conflict rose again towards the end 2014, illustrating the enormity of the task facing the humanitarian community and the potential for needs to increase still further. Access to, and the safety of, humanitarian personnel is another key challenge in a deteriorating security environment: attacks against aid workers also rose in parallel to conflict incidents in 2014.
Currently the security sector, which has an estimated annual cost of US$6 billion, is heavily supported by international donors, but the future of this funding is uncertain. The Government of Afghanistan has committed to contribute a rising share of domestic security costs until 2024, when it will assume full financial responsibility. In the meantime, against a weak Afghan economy, peace and security in Afghanistan’s Transformation Decade depend to a large degree on international donors maintaining this support to the large domestic security forces that they have helped to build.
Opportunities for a recalibrated relationship
During the Transformation Decade, donors can play a vital role in helping to build much-needed confidence in the Afghan economy and in the government’s capacity to govern and ensure security by: honouring their aid pledges; renewing their longer term commitments to development partnerships; and ensuring predictable and sustained financial support to the security sector. There are risks associated with the international security scale-down and probable changes in the nature of development partnerships, but there are also opportunities. This juncture is an ideal time for international donors to recalibrate their future investments in Afghanistan. A rebalancing of priorities could open up opportunities for donors to focus development investments on poverty reduction, inclusive economic growth and resilience to shocks, at the same time as they continue to invest in security and meet the considerable ongoing humanitarian needs.