Effects measured objectively

Fragile statehood threatens not only the people of the country concerned but also the international community. It is clear that development and security are inter-related, but very little research has been done so far to measure precisely the effects of development aid on stability. An evaluation of the situation in North East Afghanistan provides some initial pointers.

[ By Christoph Zürcher, Jan Koehler, Jan Böhnke and Cornelius Graubner ]

As the fourth-biggest donor and third-biggest provider of troops for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Germany is a major actor in the multilateral effort to rebuild Afghanistan. German understanding of reconstruction includes not just military and diplomatic support but also, crucially, development assistance. So far, the Federal Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ) has spent € 650 million on that purpose; the money has gone into areas such as sustainable promotion of the private sector, basic education as well as the supply of drinking water and energy, especially from renewable resources.

The evaluation focused on Northeast Afghanistan, the core area of German engagement, but the cumulative effects of development aid of all actors engaged are subject of the evaluation. On the basis of broad-based data, a team from Berlin’s Free University in cooperation with the BMZ evaluation department evaluated effects for the first time (see article on p. 110 for methodology). This article summarises the findings of the first representative survey.

Improving utilities

In spring 2007, we conducted a survey among 2,034 households. Respondents were asked to assess different actors’ contributions to the provision of basic services. The findings reveal a considerable need for action. Only nine percent of households get their drinking water from a pipe. The rest resort to water from wells, open canals or streams. Only around 25 % of households have electricity. Seven percent of respondents have difficulties getting food.

Aid programmes matter. Despite the dire state of infrastructure, all communities reported that they had benefited from development cooperation in the two years preceding the survey. Around 61 % of households believe that international agencies have contributed positively to drinking water provision, while 66 % consider them instrumental in improving roads. According to 47 % of the households development agencies have helped to raise the standard of schooling.

A gloomier picture is painted in terms of agriculture, electric power and employment. Only 16 % of respondents reckon that development projects have a positive effect on agricultural production; only 12.2 % see them improving access to electricity; and a mere 2.6 % think development agencies have helped to create jobs.

Little confidence in the state

An interesting finding is that Afghans feel their government’s contribution to progress in the areas mentioned is limited. 34 % of respondents think the government plays a role in improving the school system, but only 13 % of households credit it with responsibility for better roads. Six percent feel state authorities have a positive impact on agricultural production; five percent give them credit for improving drinking-water supply. Three percent state the government has helped improve to power supply and only 0.3 % think it has created jobs.

How little confidence Afghans presently have in their government is also revealed by the comments on how often district and provincial authorities respond to local needs. Only three percent agree to the statement that this happens regularly or invariably, whereas 31 % feel it is rare. A full 37 % expressed the view that district and provincial authorities do not care about the needs of the community.

A surprisingly high percentage of respondents approved of school attendance for girls. Only 1.9 % took the view that education for girls had a negative impact on local life. A large majority of households also agreed that it was a good thing to create more opportunities for men AND women to earn a living outside agriculture. That view is particularly prevalent wherever aid agencies have been active.
Enhanced security

The survey’s most surprising result is that 23 % of respondents stated that security had improved somewhat in the past two years, while 76 % mentioned substantial progress in terms of enhanced security. Both the presence of foreign troops and the government in Kabul were said to have contributed to this trend. On the other hand, part of the local population see traditions and Muslim values in danger because of the strong foreign presence. In this respect, development agencies were considered a threat by 21 % and foreign military by 43 % of respondents. Apparently, a reserved, cautious attitude towards foreigners somewhat reduces the positive effects of tangible and specific support provided by international agencies.

We also wanted to establish how development cooperation impacts on security, state legitimacy and attitudes towards international actors. We therefore looked at three issues of key concern to the international community: security, governance and public support for international actors.

In these fields, the responses from communities which claimed to have benefited much from development projects were compared with those from communities that felt they had not benefited much. Specifically, we sought to establish whether the former
- felt safer,
- saw the state in a more favourable light, and
- took a more positive view of international actors.

No correlation was found between development projects and people’s sense of security. And it should come as no surprise that respondents who thought they had profited from development projects more than most did not feel safer than others. From the survey and from open interviews, we know that people’s greatest fear is organised crime. What is more, perceived threats vary considerably from one district to another. In the short term, there is no direct correlation between community security and development projects.

Second, development projects have only a minor impact on public perceptions of the government. Whether communities have benefited from projects more or less than most others, they show an equal tendency to see the national administration as unhelpful. This suggests that development agencies have failed so far to promote state capacities at the local level.

The answer to question number three is an unambiguous “yes”. Development projects enhance the standing of international agencies among the people. Communities that had profited from development cooperation more than most generally saw international actors in a more favourable light.

The data available at present does not permit any statistically conclusive statement on causality. Did projects influence public opinion, or did development aid flow mostly to communities that already had a positive attitude towards international aid agencies? That question will be answered by the next survey, scheduled for 2009.

For various reasons, however, it can be assumed that development projects impact positively on public attitudes, and thus contribute generally to a more favourable environment for the mission. The geographical spread of development projects may show regional differences, but these can be explained by climatic and topographical conditions. There is no pattern to suggest that development projects were distributed on the base of any political bias. Furthermore, nothing in the interviews with aid-agency staff indicated that communities were selected or discriminated against according to such attitudes.

The results of this research are fairly positive. Perhaps more important, however, is the fact that despite a host of logistical and methodological difficulties, it is possible to analyse the impact of development projects even in conflict regions.

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