Foreign aid to Afghanistan bypasses the forgotten poor

For all the billions of dollars in foreign aid that have poured into Afghanistan over the past 12 years, Sajeda, her head-to-toe burqa covered in dust, sobs that the world has forgotten the poorest of the poor in the largely untroubled north of the country.

One of the paradoxes of Western aid: the northern region of Afghanistan which supported the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 has got significantly less help than the south and east, home of the Taliban militants.

Over the past decade, much of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funding has been spent in the strongholds of the insurgents as part of Washington’s strategy to win the “hearts and minds” of the local population. A disproportionate share of U.S. aid, which makes about two-thirds of all development assistance in Afghanistan, has ended up in the southern provinces where it has been used to achieve political and military objectives.

“We are the poorest and most unfortunate people of this country and no one pays attention to us. We are forgotten,” said Sajeda, who lost 12 members of her family in the landslide that killed hundreds in northern Badakhshan province.

Despite the most expensive reconstruction effort ever undertaken in a single country, Afghanistan remains one of the world’s poorest states.

[Reuters]

Polio has sprung back to life

Nothing demonstrates human interconnectedness like the spread of infectious disease. Polio is endemic to just three countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. In recent years however, visitors have carried polio back to 39 previously polio-free states. Thus people everywhere have a stake in eradicating polio, as we have stamped out smallpox.

Immunizing the last unvaccinated children on the planet is an expensive and complex undertaking, and worth it in the long run. The world not only would be forever spared an incurable, crippling and often fatal disease. It would also save a lot of money. If polio transmission could be stopped by 2015, the net benefit from reduced treatment costs and productivity gains through 2035 would be $40 billion to $50 billion, according to a 2010 study.

Thanks to the efforts of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative — which links national governments to the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Unicef, Rotary International and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — progress has been tremendous.

The coalition has adopted an emergency plan that prioritizes efforts in the three endemic countries.  (Remarkably, India, which because of population density and poor sanitation was considered the greatest challenge, had zero new polio cases last year.) The idea is to stop the virus at the source and hope it doesn’t spread to places where vigilance has been lightened.