Afghanistan

Afghanistan to launch fresh bid for funds

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KABUL (Reuters) - The Afghan government said on Wednesday it would launch a new bid this month to raise more international financial assistance, saying it had received far less than several other countries recovering from conflict.

Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai told reporters $4.5 billion pledged by international donors at a conference in Tokyo last year after the ouster of the Taliban regime was not enough to pay for the huge cost of re-building the country.

"In comparison with other recent post-conflict settings, such as Bosnia, Rwanda and Kosovo, disbursements per capita are far lower in Afghanistan than in other countries," he said.

Ahmadzai said Afghanistan would host a donor's conference in Brussels later this month to raise more reconstruction funds.

"There is urgent need to shift gears and increase pledging levels in order to meet the huge scale of Afghanistan's reconstruction needs," he said.

The Brussels conference will come a time when the world's attention has shifted to a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq.

An official of the U.N. refugee agency said on Tuesday it had so far received just $16 million of the $194 million it has sought to pay for the return more than a million Afghan refugees from neighbouring countries in 2003.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers said he feared Iraq was diverting donors' attention.

He said it would be a "fateful mistake" if they failed on pledges to build a peaceful Afghanistan in accordance with promises made after the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001.

Officials say faster progress in reconstruction projects would help build the credibility of President Hamid Karzai's U.S.-backed administration in the provinces where powerful warlords still wield most power.

Donors pledged $1.24 billion for Afghanistan at a conference in Oslo in December, but it was unclear how much of this was new money or included in the sum pledged in Tokyo.

In 2001, the World Bank and United Nations estimated Afghanistan's aid needs at around $10 billion, while the transitional government has estimated $17-20 billion.

Ahmadzai said that for the fiscal year beginning March 21, the country needed to budget $1.5 billion for reconstruction projects and another $500 million for administrative costs.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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