Afghanistan has been either on the verge of civil war or in a state of open armed conflict for decades. The degree to which this situation has affected the country varies considerably from one part to another. International aid is a major factor for the survival of the local population, whose livelihood has been threatened by war for the last 20 years.
The Afghanistan Support Group plays an important role in alleviating the worst effects of the conflict. In 1996, it was founded by the 16 largest of the donor countries to Afghanistan as a complement to the efforts of the UN. Switzerland joined the ASG in 1998. Today, most of the aid from individual countries is channelled to Afghanistan via the ASG. The Group works intensively with various UN organisations as well as with multilateral aid organisations active in Afghanistan. The ASG's central concerns are to co-ordinate the various aid and development efforts by means of a common strategy, to monitor the implementation of programmes, and to raise efficiency. In addition, the ASG complements international political efforts to bring the warring parties together to find a peaceful solution to the conflict and thereby lay the foundation for the urgently needed reconstruction of the country.
Until now, Swiss aid to the people of Afghanistan has primarily been in the form of humanitarian assistance via the SDC. A small part of this assistance is provided directly, as was the case in the aftermath of the earthquake in 1998, but the bulk of it reaches its destination via the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Switzerland has also supported both seed production in the last few years via a programme run by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and rural development activities through the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
In the past few years, Swiss contributions have fluctuated between 1.5 and 5 million Swiss francs. In 1999, Switzerland provided 5.2 million francs to the ASG, corresponding to approximately 4 per cent of all aid to Afghanistan in that year. The SDC's budget for Afghanistan for the year 2000 amounts to about 6.5 million Swiss francs, of which the sum of 5.5 million has been earmarked for humanitarian aid.
The decision to take over the ASG chairmanship was made in Ottowa. It is the first time that Switzerland has accepted this task, which will be for a period of one year.
For further information concerning the Afghanistan Support Group and Switzerland's chairmanship of the ASG, please contact the SDC Media and Communications Section (Tel. 031 322 31 09).