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Afghanistan after the US: What's next?

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Challenges and criticism

Still, the challenges are not few. At the recent ground breaking for a US-funded, half-million dollar watershed management project, locals didn’t appear to understand what all the work is for.

Ground water levels have been dropping throughout the area, a serious concern for farmers. The watershed project is designed to raise water levels by constructing a central reservoir that will replenish wells throughout the area. Several tribal elders, at the ceremony, however, appeared to think the reservoir was a new place for them to come fill buckets, an action that would render the project futile.

This disconnect is common throughout Afghanistan, says Yama Torabi, executive director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan. Those responsible for projects often fail to communicate to local community members the purpose of a given project or even that it’s happening.

“You have to take into consideration [the community’s] needs, and usually this is not the case,” says Mr. Torabi.

In a community-monitoring effort of 240 development projects in six provinces, which did not include Wardak, IWA found major problems, such as shoddy construction practices, that required attention at two-thirds of the projects. Torabi says in areas like Wardak, where security is a serious concern, there are likely to be even more problems.

Presently, almost all provincial development in Afghanistan comes from foreign funding. Although the development effort in Afghanistan has often faced criticism for problems like those described by Torabi, it’s helped provide services that legitimize the government for many Afghans.

But as the US and NATO reduce their commitment here, that gain, too, is in jeopardy. Already, President Obama has proposed a 34 percent cut on Afghan reconstruction spending in fiscal year 2013.

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