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Monday, 21 January, 2002, 09:05 GMT
UK pledges 200m Afghan aid
An area in Kandahar which Afghans say was bombed by the US
Afghanistan resembles a bomb site
Britain has pledged more than 200m over the next five years to help rebuild war-ravaged Afghanistan, International Development Secretary Clare Short announced on Monday.

The aid package was unveiled at a two-day donors' conference in Tokyo aimed at raising funds to help Afghans reconstruct their country following years of war, drought and the rule of the Taleban.

I'm hoping very much that I'll go back to my country, my people, with full hands

Hamid Karzai
Ms Short said: "There'll be bumps along the way, but I'm pretty sure we can deliver to the people of Afghanistan much more hope and a better life than they had before 11 September.

"So if good comes out of bad, that's how it should be."

Afghanistan was one of the world's poorest countries even before the US-led bombing campaign reduced even more buildings to rubble.

It is estimated the country needs $10bn over the next five years.

Pledges coming in

Ms Short told BBC Radio 4's Today programme she was confident the international community would come up with the necessary funds.

"The final pledges are not in - but it looks as though they are going to come in at the sort of level that is being asked for, for the first couple of years."

However, in order to spend "big money" it was necessary to build up Afghanistan's own governmental systems which had been destroyed by 20 years of war, she added.

Britain's money, earmarked for both reconstruction and humanitarian assistance, will be funnelled mostly through UN agencies and non-governmental agencies.

Hamid Karzai
Mr Karzai appealed for help for Afghanistan

It is in addition to money the Department for International Development contributes to the World Bank, European Union and Asian Development Bank, which will direct further funds into Afghanistan in the coming years.

The UK will contribute a fifth of the EU's donation to the international fund, expected to total one billion euros over five years.

The US said it would offer almost $300m (208.5m) in the coming year.

In London, the prime minister's official spokesman said that Britain wanted to underline its commitment to rehabilitating Afghanistan.

Crisis after crisis

"We said we were in this for the long term. This conference will bear that out," the spokesman said.

Ministers meeting in Tokyo are working off a preliminary report by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Development Programme that estimates Afghanistan's needs at $10.2bn (7.09bn) over five years.

But, based on the experience of rebuilding other war-torn countries, Ms Short doubted Afghanistan could absorb so much aid so quickly.

"I personally think that about $1bn a year for the next five years is about as much as realistically spendable," she said.

International Development Secretary Clare Short
Ms Short says Afghanistan needs $1bn aid a year

"We've seen this in crisis after crisis. Countries need everything but they have no systems, and beyond humanitarian (assistance) you need systems to be able to spend money and invest," she added.

For that reason, Ms Short played down expectations of the over all financial commitment to emerge from the Tokyo conference.

"It won't be at the high end," she said.

In all, world leaders are expected to pledge around US $3bn (2.088bn).

Representatives of more than 50 countries and international organisations were convening for the two-day meeting.

The British delegation is being led by Ms Short, who is being accompanied by officials from Dfid, the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence, including Robert Cooper, Prime Minister Tony Blair's special adviser on Afghanistan.

Other key figures attending the conference include US Secretary of State Colin Powell, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Hamid Karzai, prime minister of the interim Afghan government.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell
Mr Powell is attending the Tokyo conference

Arriving in Tokyo yesterday Mr Karzai said: "I'm hoping very much that I'll go back to my country, my people, with full hands.

"We need your help to begin a new life. Help us stand again on our feet."

The UN's top priorities are establishing a police force, filling the government's coffers and getting farmers back in the fields for the spring planting season.

In general, however, health care, education, rebuilding a shattered infrastructure and clearing land mines are also expected to headline the agenda.

The BBC's Emil Petrie
"Substantial contributions have been promised"
Prime Minister Tony Blair
"There is now the real prospect of a stable and prosperous future"
See also:

21 Jan 02 | South Asia
Donors pledge Afghan aid
20 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Japan bags top role in Afghan recovery
20 Jan 02 | South Asia
Karzai optimistic over Afghan funds
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