NEW DELHI - Millions of dollars of aid routed through foreign troops in Afghanistan to "win hearts and minds" have not only failed to tackle poverty but put the lives of ordinary Afghans at risk, aid agencies said in a report on Wednesday.
Nations contributing troops in Afghanistan are estimated to have channelled up to $1.7 billion since 2001 through their military for projects such as building schools in one of the world's poorest countries. And this amount is expected to rise rapidly.
"Development projects implemented with military money ... aim to achieve fast results, but are often poorly executed, inappropriate and do not have sufficient community involvement to make them sustainable," said the study titled "The Dangers of Militarised Aid in Afghanistan".
"There is little evidence this approach is generating stability and, in some cases, military involvement in development activities is, paradoxically, putting Afghan lives further at risk as these projects quickly become targeted by anti-government elements."
As insurgents increasingly target education, schools built by the military in insecure areas are putting teachers and students at greater risk, said the report published ahead of a conference on Thursday in London where 70 nations will debate the future of Afghanistan.
Such schools do not conform to the hardline Islamic teachings taught by some Taliban-supported madrasas or religious schools. Moreover, militants who often take advantage of the uneducated and poor for recruitment see education of rural populations as a ploy by western governments to dilute their support. Girls' schools are targeted most often.
Aid workers say they are concerned insurgents' wrath will spread to hospitals, clinics and other public buildings constructed by foreign troops.
The report by Oxfam International and seven other international aid agencies also criticised a military practice of providing aid in the form of cash or food for information.
"Offering food and other aid in exchange for information in a country where a third of the population is at risk of hunger is not only unethical, it puts Afghans in potential danger of being targeted by anti-government groups," it said.
The study said the militarised aid delivery focused on winning the loyalty of Afghans through the provision of aid rather than alleviating poverty and much assistance had focused on "quick fixes and band-aid approaches" rather than on producing positive and lasting results.
Examples of shoddy projects run by foreign troops included a school with latrines that emptied just above a stream used by the community as a water source. Another school had no retaining wall to prevent potential rock- and mudslides.
Such schemes were "feel-good projects" with success measured by money spent or by the satisfaction of the local governor, the report said. There was little or no consideration for hiring trained teachers, producing relevant textbooks and curricula and a safe environment for children, especially girls, it added.
Since U.S.-backed forces toppled the Taliban in 2001, international donors have poured more than $20 billion in development and humanitarian aid into the war-ravaged nation.
But Afghanistan remains one of the poorest, least developed countries in the world. Nearly half of the population lives below the poverty line, more than half the children are chronically malnourished and unemployment is estimated at 40 percent.
The aid agencies, which include ActionAid, Care, Afghanaid, Christian Aid, Trocaire, Concern and the Norwegian Refugee Council, urged leaders at the London conference to revaluate their approach to Afghanistan's development and reconstruction.