LONDON (AlertNet) – Afghanistan needs a radical change in strategy that puts poverty reduction at the heart of international policy, aid agencies said on Tuesday, ahead of a major conference on the future of the country to be held in London. The delivery of aid to Afghans through the U.S.-led military presence is failing to alleviate the plight of the nation’s poorest and more attention should be given to developing better government, the aid groups added. “Countless lives are being lost as millions of dollars are spent each day on mismanaged or ineffective aid projects by the international forces,” said Abdul Basir, director of the British and Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group (BAAG), an umbrella group set up by non-governmental organisations to highlight the humanitarian needs of Afghans. “These resources should be channeled through civilian bodies and tackle the real problems of poverty,” he added in a statement released ahead of a London conference of Afghan NGOs and their international development partners. The conference comes two days before foreign ministers, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Afghan President Hamid Karzai meet in London to discuss future strategy in Afghanistan. Providing aid and development to the Afghan people is seen as a key priority to prevent them from supporting the Taliban-led insurgency, being fought by some 100,000 troops from the United States and NATO countries. Afghanistan, ravaged by decades of conflict, is the second poorest country in the world, after Niger, and has the second highest rate of maternal mortality, the BAAG said. Children under five have less chance of surviving than anywhere else on the planet. Tuesday’s conference, attended by leading development experts, community leaders, academics and Afghan politicians, will discuss how poverty can be addressed and the country rebuilt. The conference will then send two representatives to the Afghan meeting to be hosted by Brown on Thursday. “We shall tell world leaders how Afghanistan has the potential to change its standing as one of the poorest countries on earth – but only if they look beyond military issues and face up to the challenge of promoting genuine development and better government,” Sayed Jawad Jawed, chair of the Agency Co-ordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR), the NGO umbrella body in Afghanistan, said in a statement. “Over the past eight years, too much aid has by-passed Afghan institutions and been channeled through military-led teams into areas of conflict. Real development builds the capacity of Afghans to run their own health and education services, and for communities to develop their own livelihoods. It is not about quick fixes,” he added. The Thursday conference is expected to agree a framework for the Afghan government to being taking charge of security in line with a 2011 timetable set by U.S. President Barack Obama to start drawing down U.S. troops. Britain is hoping to use the meeting in London, to be attended by ministers from some 60 countries, to galvanise support for Afghanistan and convince regional players to co-operate in bringing stability to the country.
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