A man and village children stand outside a U.K. aid-funded health clinic in Afghanistan. Photo by: Sam French / Development Pictures / CC BY-NC-ND

How much is U.K. aid to Afghanistan? 178 million pounds ($282 million) a year.

The United Kingdom is Afghanistan’s second-largest bilateral donor, next to the United States. But a report released March 22 by the British & Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group says many Afghans perceive U.K. aid as politicized and focused on southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, where most British troops are based.

The report, titled “Losing the Ability to Dream: Afghan Perceptions of U.K. Aid,” said Afghans “do not necessarily” want more aid, but better aid. Achieving this can be a bit complex, however, especially in the presence of seven Cs: conflict, criminality, corruption, capacity, competing interests, complexity and lack of common sense.

Take conflict for example. The Afghan government notes conflict is one of the primary challenges to aid effectiveness in Afghanistan. It causes delays, increases the cost of implementing aid activities and limits aid access to volatile areas.

As for corruption, Transparency International’s 2010 corruption perceptions index places Afghanistan in second place with Myanmar. And one of the main causes for the country’s vulnerability to corruption is the huge inflow of foreign funds, which, unfortunately, does not translate to better capacity or increased security for Afghans, according to a conclusion by the International Crisis Group, which was quoted in this report.

But Afghanistan’s problems aren’t the only issue. Donors that focus on quick-impact projects rather than on sustainable, long-term development outcomes also put aid effectiveness off the table. The United Kingdom, for one, is criticized for the lack of robust financial and performance monitoring systems in place to manage its programs in Afghanistan.

So what then should donors, such as the United Kingdom, do to get more value for their aid money?

The report says most Afghans perceive that funds dispersed to nongovernmental organizations have a better chance of generating relevant projects. Also, Afghans would prefer that the international aid community take a supporting role — instead of a lead role — in project coordination.

For the United Kingdom’s part, meanwhile, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact said the Department for International Development should tighten oversight of its aid programs in Afghanistan. It also said DfID should deploy people with more financial and procurement skills to improve its financial grip and reduce risks, and be active enough in detecting fraud and corruption in its office in the country.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.