September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
Andrew S. Natsios before the House International Relations Committee; March 14, 2002

Andrew S. Natsios Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development Remarks on Afghanistan before the House International Relations Committee March 14, 2002

Chairman Hyde, Congressman Lantos, Members of the Committee: I am very pleased to have the opportunity to appear before you today and have the chance to discuss what the U.S. Agency for International Development [USAID] is doing with respect to Afghanistan.

As you can well imagine, Afghanistan has been a major priority for our agency and for the Administration for many months, and it is likely to continue that way for a long time to come. I would like to thank this Committee, therefore, for the outstanding support it has shown us thus far and for the cooperation that I am certain we can count on in the future.

Afghanistan presents one of the most difficult humanitarian and development challenges USAID has ever faced. The Afghans are a remarkably resilient people, but the stress of the past 22 years has taken a tremendous toll on people's lives. About half the country lives in absolute poverty. Average life expectancy is 46 years. Malnutrition is widespread. The child mortality rate is among the highest in the world. About a third of the Afghan people are still dependent on external food aid. Individual security is uncertain. Unemployment is running at about 50 percent, and 70 percent of the people are illiterate. Virtually all the country's institutions and much of its infrastructure have been destroyed.

Most of this was apparent when I became USAID Administrator last spring and cited Afghanistan as one of the three countries in the world with the greatest humanitarian needs. By then, three years of drought, more than two decades of war, and the Taliban's appalling misrule had raised the specter of impending famine. Already the world's leading supplier of emergency food assistance to the Afghan people, we stepped up our efforts as the summer progressed.

The events of September 11 only added to the challenge -- and redoubled our determination to help the Afghan people. Throughout the fall, and in the midst of the campaign to remove the Taliban, we continued to work with the World Food Program, and other international and local NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] to deliver food and humanitarian assistance. Despite the difficulties and the approach of winter, by December we had surpassed our goals and delivered several hundred thousand metric tons of food, an unprecedented amount given the circumstances. Although pockets of hunger remain, the widespread famine we feared has not occurred.

Altogether, the U.S. Government spent more than $183 million on humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan in FY 2001. We have already surpassed that in the first six months of this fiscal year, with overall U.S. Government assistance totaling more than $239 million thus far. Of that, $83.9 million has come from USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, $75 million from our Food for Peace program, and $14.2 million from our Office of Transition Initiatives.

On Monday, President Bush hosted a White House ceremony to mark the six-month anniversary of the September 1P attacks. At it he noted both the tremendous difficulties Afghanistan has posed, and the success our assistance has helped make possible. "Afghanistan," he said, "has many difficult challenges ahead -- and yet, we've averted mass starvation, begun clearing mine fields, rebuilding roads and improving health care."

USAID has played a major role in all this. Today, we are not only supplying emergency food assistance but also investing $167 million in recovery and reconstruction assistance made available this fiscal year. We are also putting Afghans back to work rebuilding roads and irrigation systems, repairing schools and hospitals, immunizing children, and providing seed so that farmers can plant their crops this spring.

We are also printing 9.7 million textbooks, four million of which will be ready for the opening of Afghanistan's schools nine days from now. We are re-training women teachers so that they can return to their classrooms now that the Taliban has been removed. Another of our quick-impact programs has paid for the refurbishment of the Ministry of Women's Affairs. That the work was completed for International Women's Day -- March 8 -- has served, I think, as both a symbol and a concrete demonstration of our commitment to Afghan women.

By funding a series of quick-impact programs and designing USAID's Afghan strategy so that our emergency assistance contributes directly to our longer-term development goals, we are gaining months of precious time.

Our near-term priorities are clear. For the present, we have four specific goals in support of the war against terrorists of global reach and the U.S. policy of assisting Afghanistan:

Creating conditions for stability, providing alternatives to conflict, terrorism and drug trafficking; and

Let me explain in more detail. Unfortunately, the drought that has plagued Afghanistan for four years is still under way. That means that unless the situation changes dramatically -- and soon -- we must continue our major emergency food aid and humanitarian assistance programs.

Stability and recovery in Afghanistan will be difficult until people can return to their homes and resume normal lives. So along with providing emergency humanitarian assistance, assisting refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) to resettle where conditions allow is our first goal. Life in these camps is seldom safe or healthy, despite the efforts of the international community to provide for them. As we have seen in many countries, the poverty and powerlessness of the people who live in these camps make them tempting targets for many kinds of lawless groups.

Second, we must focus our attention on re-establishing food security as quickly as possible. This means ensuring that food production is increased, that people have the family income to buy food, and that they are sufficiently healthy to benefit from it.

In order to do this, we will emphasize Afghanistan's agriculture and infrastructure. Our immediate focus is on critical inputs: seeds, tools, and fertilizer for this spring's planting season. We also need to rebuild irrigation systems and rural feeder roads, plant new trees and orchards, extend farmers credit, and create viable alternatives to poppy cultivation.

Much of this we have already begun to do. Since September we have launched many small cash-for-work, food-for-work, and seed-for-work projects.

In order for people to be able to purchase food -- instead of receiving it as a handout -- we need to help restore Afghanistan's economy. To do this we will emphasize local reconstruction programs that generate jobs.

This, too, we have already begun. Since December, we have funded several different food-for-work programs that employ Afghans throughout the country on water supply, irrigation, road repair and seed distribution projects. Altogether we now have nine food-for-work projects under way, at a cost of approximately $2.3 million.

Most of those who die in famines or near famine situations succumb not to starvation, but disease. While, as has been noted above, wide-scale famine has been averted, there are plenty of Afghans who are undernourished and vulnerable to disease. Our goal, therefore, is to ensure that children, in particular, receive enough food and vitamins, and that they get immunized and treated for various diarrhea] diseases and respiratory infections. We are also looking to provide pre- and post-natal care for mothers, build community wells and latrines, and improve overall hygiene and sanitation practices.

Again, we did not wait for peace to begin our development relief. Since December, we have supported a wide range of basic health activities. This includes training, providing vaccines and vitamins to children, and establishing emergency obstetric care centers.

Our third goal is to create conditions for stability and provide alternatives to conflict, terrorism and drug trafficking.

To do this, we plan to emphasize several elements in our programs in addition to rehabilitating the agricultural sector:

Reopening schools, supplying textbooks and training teachers can make an important contribution to Afghanistan's stability. For the first time in years, girls will have the opportunity to attend school and obtain the education they deserve. This is true for many boys, as well. Attending school helps restore a sense of normalcy to children's lives; it gets them off the streets and back into established routines, enhancing security in the process. Further, as two-thirds of Afghanistan's teachers have traditionally been women, reopening the schools will return thousands of these women to the workforce, with all the economic benefits that this entails for themselves and their families.

Similarly, restoring Afghanistan's agricultural sector has multiple benefits. Historically, 80 percent of the population depends on farming and gazing. Revitalizing this sector not only will reduce dependency on international food assistance, but give employment to former combatants, help stabilize the security environment, and spur the economy.

Our fourth goal is improving the governing capacity of Afghanistan's Interim Authority and its successors. In the short term, this means providing support to the Interim Authority and the Transitional Government expected to be in place later this year. Over time, it will entail many different programs and areas of emphasis. Among these are good governance and rule of law; re-establishing functioning markets and improving the investment climate, especially in agriculture; private sector development; agricultural research and training programs; basic education; and improving the health sector.

We have few illusions that rebuilding Afghanistan will be a quick or easy job. Still, we can geatly improve our chances for success if we recognize and abide by the following ideas and principles:

At the Tokyo donor's conference this January, Secretary of State Powell pledged $297 million on behalf of the U.S. Government to help the Afghan people. Of that, USAID is managing $167 million in Fiscal Year 2002. We have programmed this as follows: $77 million in humanitarian food assistance; $22 million in other emergency supplies; $38 million for agricultural and rural economic development; $9.7 million in health care; $6.5 million for education; and $13.5 million for good governance and political stabilization programs. Another $2.7 million will fund the War Victims Fund, polio eradication and other programs. Altogether, we have already obligated $104 million of this $167 million.

As Secretary Powell said of Afghanistan earlier this year: "President Bush, the Congress, and the American people recognize fully that rebuilding that war-torn country will require additional resources and that our support will be a multi-year effort."

We expect this. We are aware that our goals for Afghanistan are ambitious and that even under better circumstances it would be hard to guarantee success. But however difficult the reconstruction of the country proves to be, there is one thing I can guarantee you, Mr. Chairman: we at USAID are committed to doing our very best for Afghanistan.

Thank you.

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