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Administrator Natsios: The United States is contributing a million dollars, subject to consultation with Congress, towards the interim trust fund for the support of the Afghan government. I think it is a $20 million fund over a six-month period.
Question: So does that mean it will have to be topped up by the EU and the U.S. later?
Natsios: I don't know when they will announce the EU 's contribution. They are going to announce it today themselves. Other countries will contribute too.
Question: Already an idea about the identification of the quick-start projects?
Natsios: We were supposed to discuss that this morning and we spent so much time on other things, we never got to it. We have some ideas, one of which would be to try to get as many of the urban schools, particularly primary schools, open as quickly as possible.
We would like quick-impact projects that have multiple good consequences. Two- thirds of Afghan teachers are women. One way of reintroducing women in a visible way into Afghan society would be through schools. So that would be very useful in terms of making a statement about women's role in Afghan society. Two, if women were paid either with food for work or cash, we know women worldwide, the Afghan women would feed their children first with extra income. So Afghan teachers will ensure the feeding of their own children. And there is (a large) number of teachers. This is not a few hundreds, but thousands, tens of thousands of teachers potentially.
The third thing to do is to get kids off the street. You don't want during the reconstruction process children of any age in the streets, it is very disruptive to public order, it endangers them, there is the landmine problem. The longer they are in school in a structured way, the more useful it would be. There is also a very large percentage of Afghan children who have watched a relative get killed. So there is a lot of emotional trauma that we are not seeing physically, and psychosocial therapy in the aftermath of the war is bringing back some order to a child's life. So just the opening of schools will have a good psychological effect on the children who begin the process of dealing with some of that trauma.
And finally, it is very unlikely women will participate in strengthening the warlords or the militias, or buy weapons. So a very good way of injecting money into the economy is through women teachers.
Question: Who will pay those women teachers?
Natsios: A system will have to be set up. It will have to go through the interim authority but our government is considering now that part of our contribution to the reconstruction effort will be to the educational system.
Question: Is it too early to talk now about the sums?
Natsios: In January, I think, with Japan. We have not decided yet, but we are discussing it actively, we are doing some planning, we are putting together a phase program for the U.S. government to decide.
Question: When you said that you want to open schools. There is a first step to build schools because many have been destroyed. You have to send books, you have to form new teachers.
Natsios: Well, there is a trained cadre of teachers from the 1980's that is still around and we have done some research on them. Many of them are in the camps and they are refugees. So one way would be to facilitate the return of some of the Afghan refugees who are teachers, to have them return. There has been no assessment of the conditions of the buildings, we will have to do that, and that is part of the program that has to be done. You could begin the education program without reconstituting the whole curriculum and all that. You don't have to wait for that. Children can learn from teachers just by having a black board and a chalk in the beginning. You move then to have the textbooks printed and that sort of thing.
Question: What would be the method of these movements of the sums which are in the trust fund. Will the money be available in a question of weeks?
Natsios: Which trust fund?
Question: You said the (U.S. contribution) would be one million dollars.
Natsios: That is already set up. It exists now and we will begin payments next week to members of the Afghan interim government.
Question: They are just for salaries or for...
Natsios: It is for salaries, offices, heat, the things that are necessary to make the government function. A bigger trust fund will take a lot longer to set up and it will be much slower too.
Question: What do you mean? Do you have any idea? How long it will take?
Natsios: All international trust funds take a long time. Ask Mark Malloch-Brown (of the United Nations Development Program).
Question: At this stage now, we can say that there will be a big trust fund that will now channel the aid?
Natsios: No, no that would be the aid for smaller donors that do not have bilateral programs.
Question: That is right, so otherwise an aid will be extended on bilateral basis?
Natsios: Bilateral basis or through NGO's that are there or through an agency like UNICEF or FAO. We already have grants with FAO now, and it won't go through the trust fund, we will give it directly to FAO, there is no point to go through a trust fund or something like that. We had a large AID bilateral program in the 1960s and ' 70s and we expect to begin a new program now.
Question: How many countries are capable of aggregating enough money for bilateral assistance?
Natsios: Well, the three largest countries that (have) entities for funding aid are Japan, the United States and the European Union.
Question: Saudi Arabia?
Natsios: Saudi Arabia does not have a bilateral development agency, like USAID, that I know of. I am not as familiar with Saudi Arabia, so some of the Arab countries might to through the trust fund. You have to ask them, it is their choice.
Question: But does that mean that Japan, U.S. and the EU won't be putting any money into the trust?
Natsios: I don't know, I don't want to speak for other governments. We are not planning, we still have to discuss that, because we have mechanisms within AID to begin immediately, literally within a month. I have already made $ 25 million in grants for agriculture reconstruction in the last two weeks. It (consists) of irrigation systems, we have begun to do seed replications, because there is almost no seeds left in the country, and tools. It is to NGO's and the UN agencies. We disbursed the money, I think, just a week ago. So we have already begun. If we put it through the trust fund it will be a while and we cannot wait. A lot of this work that we have done is through the interim government, and we are working with them. But we have to use existing mechanisms or we will have delays, which we cannot afford now. You cannot have a food program like this for another year. This is so massive.
Question: What is happening right now in the country?
Natsios: It appears that we have succeeded in stopping the famine. I am fairly confident we are not going to have widespread starvation this winter.
Question: When you say "we?
Natsios: I mean the international community. Last year, 85 percent of the food that went into Afghanistan, before September 11, came from the United States. We had a $ 174 million relief program last year and a $320 million program the president announced for this year. So the United States has given over a two-year period $500 million in humanitarian relief for Afghanistan, before and after September 11. And we are going to continue that, but it is destructive to have a third of the country on food aid. That is just not productive.
Question: Is the food is getting in though?
Natsios: It is getting in. This month the World Food Program will get in about a hundred thousand tons of food. Massive. I don't think they have ever done that before.
Question: Hundred thousand tons of food in one month? It is the World Food Program?
Natsios: That is correct. They are the wholesalers, they move the food from the ports across the border into warehouses and the NGOs take it from the warehouses to the villages to distribute it door-to-door.
Question: Under an optimistic scenario, when do you think their central bank will start functioning and the finance minister will start collecting taxes?
Natsios:(Laugh...) You have to ask the World Bank that and the (Afghan) Finance Minister will be here tomorrow from Afghanistan.
Question: Have you already decided what would be the total contribution of the U.S. for the reconstruction of Afghanistan?
Natsios: We are not discussing that, even in our government. We will make an announcement in January, at the conference in Tokyo.
Question: You think all the countries are going to do that?
Natsios: We are urging them to do that, and if we are urging other people to do it, then we have to do it ourselves.
Question: When you are talking about your project of bringing back women teachers to school, when do you think it could start?
Natsios: Our people are working on some plans now.
Question: In a month's time?
Natsios: No, no, no, it is going to be more than that. But the other thing that we have to understand is that if we delay too much we will undermine the interim authority. The reason the factions have agreed to a broad-based ethnic government is because of the possibility of reconstruction. Without reconstruction, the interim government will not last long. That is the carrot that is getting the factions to discipline and behave themselves. This is the first government in 25 years. Some people say it has been a century since there has been an Afghan government that includes all of the major ethnic groups and all the regions. So this is very unique and we need to take this opportunity and strengthen the authority and warn the armed factions and some of the militias that they need to support the new government. Or we cannot do our reconstruction.
Question: Don't you think that your program of bringing back women teachers for instance could not be seen with very keen eyes by the Saudis?
Natsios: I think it is a decision the Afghans have to make and they already have said they want to do it, and there are two women that we know very well at AID because we have been supporting their NGO's for many years (who are) now in the Afghan government. One of them visited me on Friday. Dr. Somara (ph) who is a medical doctor, she is one of the two ministers, she is the vice-chairman of the interim government. She wants to open the schools and bring the women teachers back right now. She is very enthusiastic.
This is their decision to make -- not our decision. We are going to support their efforts. But there is already a large cadre of trained teachers and university professors, I might add. They have a medical school at the University of Kabul that functioned before the war that was quite good. Mazaar Sharif was a center of women's higher education and it was actually quite modern by any standard. And in Harat there is an ancient tradition of active women participation.
So, what the Taliban did to women was not in Afghan tradition, in the urban areas. In the rural areas they are more conservative. But in the urban areas they had a long tradition that goes back to the 19th and 18th centuries. So, these are old traditions....
Queston: Tomorrow you will come up with a list of quick- start projects, but you will not have the agreement of the Afghan authorities.
Administrator Natsios: Oh, they are already talking about it now. We are already talking with them now.
Question: So you already know they will agree?
Administrator Natsios: No, we do not. We know in some areas. There are no detailed plans yet. We know areas. There is general agreement among the Afghans that the agriculture sector has to be focused on, for example. The health sector, the education sector, so there is already agreement.
Question: What would you say are the biggest lessons you have learned in places like Somalia and Kosovo that you would like to avoid making here?
Administrator Natsios: Well, we have to have a coordinated strategy. Because if you have different strategies that are in competition with each other, what happens is you end up neutralizing the effect of your aid. Or, you have the armed militant factions. They manipulate the donors, or the UN agencies or the NGOs, and we cannot allow them to do that. We need to support these civilian technocrats in the interim government that want to rebuild the country, that is our job to do. We need to send consistent messages and not confuse people, and we need to restore food security that is another thing we learned in Somalia. If we had done that, we would not have had the problems we had.
Question: Why, because the groups were fighting about food supply?
Administrator Natsios: Food aid. It comes in with all the trucks and all the equipment and it's a walking target. We have to have some food aid for two or three years now, but it cannot be a third of the country. We are feeding 37 million people now, up 22 million. It is not healthy.
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