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Friday, 21 December, 2001, 22:51 GMT
Afghanistan hopes for global aid
An Afghan guard beats back hungry refugees in a camp in northern Afghanistan
Afghanistan could receive billions in aid
Barnaby Mason

The inauguration of the interim administration in Kabul should pave the way for a big programme of international aid to rebuild Afghanistan.

United Nations agencies and the European Union are drawing up plans for projects to meet the immediate needs of the winter, and for long term reconstruction.

Billions of dollars are being talked about, on the assumption that this time the big powers will stay involved in Afghanistan.

Stability desired

The Americans may not have intervened in Afghanistan out of the goodness of their hearts, but they do have an interest in it becoming stable and relatively more prosperous.

An Afghan man cleaning one of Afghanistan's public baths
Afghans themselves need to provide security and stability

Better government and reconstruction, western diplomats say, are the best guarantee that the country will not again become a haven for organisations like al-Qaeda.

Serious planning is now being carried out by UN agencies, the EU and donor governments.

At the same time, they are warning that reconstruction will take place only in those areas where the Afghans themselves provide security and stability.

One of the EU commissioners involved, Chris Patten, said the task of rebuilding would prove awesome.

He said they are dealing with a failed state, with no working institutions, with an infrastructure in ruins and many of its best intellectuals in exile.

Restoring normal life

Beyond food aid for the winter, international officials are looking at projects which will have a quick impact in restoring some kind of normal life.

Afghan child
School facilities need to be improved for children
They include repairing and opening up key roads to Pakistan and to the northern border - providing security improves - that would give passage to normal trade as well as aid convoys.

Other priorities, diplomats say, are to get schools working - for girls as well as boys - and to improve basic health services.

The UN Development Programme has set up a fund to cover the immediate costs of government - like getting ministries working, providing office equipment, and paying the salaries of civil servants and teachers.

Rehabilitation

It is expected that much of the work on short- term rehabilitation can be done by the Afghans themselves, once the money becomes available.

However, long term reconstruction will require huge outside resources and technical help.

Hundreds of thousands of houses in Kabul have been destroyed in more than 20 years of war, along with irrigation works for agriculture in the once productive Shomali plains to the north.

And a banking and taxation system has to be created from scratch.

It has been estimated that up to $2bn a year will be needed for the next five years.

Nonetheless,it is hoped that the quicker that Afghans begin to see results, the more likely they are to work together to create a permanent and fully representative government.

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