Japan tops Afghanistan aid pledges
TOKYO, Japan -- Japan has vowed to provide up to $500 million to Afghanistan, more than the United States or European Union have pledged to reconstruct the destitute central Asian nation.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told an international donors meeting on Monday that Japan would provide up to $500 million in aid for Afghanistan over the next two years, of which half would be provided in the first year.
Japan, which is one of four co-chairs of the donors meeting along with the United States, Saudi Arabia and the European Union, will provide a maximum of $250 million in aid in the first year, he said.
"Japan will do its utmost to support the reconstruction of Afghanistan," Koizumi said during the opening session of a two-day Afghan reconstruction conference in Tokyo, where donors gathered to pledge billions of dollars for the war-torn country.
The United States vowed $290 million as part of the international effort to rebuild the war-wracked country.
Germany is to provide $362 million over the next four years to help build schools, an independent justice system and restore women's rights, Reuters news agency reported.
The European Union has said it also plans to donate at least $175 million this year.
In an interview published Sunday in Asharq al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned newspaper, interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai said Saudi Arabia granted Afghanistan immediate assistance of $20 million "as a first installment."
Japan's aid will focus on facilitating the resettlement of refugees, improving education and health care, the empowerment of women, and the removal of land mines, Koizumi said.
"Japan's assistance will focus on supporting the process towards peace and national reconciliation, as well as on people-building. The future of Afghanistan has to be built by its own people," Koizumi said.
Organizers said they hope to raise at least $5 billion to see Afghanistan through the next 30 months. The country is said to be down to its last $10 million.
Representatives from about 60 countries and organizations, including the United Nations, are in Tokyo under the banner of the International Conference on Reconstruction Assistance to Afghanistan.
There are concerns about oversight and accountability of funds.
Early estimates put the cost of the devastated country's needs in the next year alone at $1.7 billion. The United Nations said that figure grows to $15 billion over the next 10 years to repair infrastructure and fund the government.
Credibility on line
U.S. Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, witnessed the devastation on a recent trip to the Afghan capital, Kabul.
"You could ride through northern Kabul for literally 20, 30, 40 blocks and see nothing but rubble that was no higher than a story and a half on either side of the street as far as the eye could see," Biden said on Fox News Sunday.
Biden stressed immediate financial relief was needed for the war-torn country, noting the interim government would not be viewed as legitimate in the eyes of Afghans until it provided for basic needs.
Biden referred to Afghanistan as the "other end of Ground Zero."
Aid groups have taken it a step further, labeling the country Ground Zero, even though that name has been attached to the site where the World Trade Center once stood.
Interim leader Karzai began his trip to Japan with an appeal for aid. "Help us begin a new life, help us stand again on our feet," Karzai said Sunday at a Tokyo news conference. He also said he hopes to return home with "full hands."
The needs of Afghanistan are many, according to the International Committee for the Red Cross and other agencies. Aside from the obvious destruction from past armed conflicts, the country is prone to natural disasters and is trying to cope with a third year of the worst drought in three decades.
Less than three percent of the population has access to electricity. Millions of Afghans are homeless and rely on international aid agencies for food and shelter, and some people have not had access to medical care for more than a decade.
The World Food Programme estimates at least six million people in the country of 25 million depend entirely on food aid.
Japan offers aid to 'broke' Afghanistan
Janauary 15, 2002
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