Cablegate: Overall Success and Room for Improvement in Refugee

DE RUEHBUL #3876/01 3250108
O 210108Z NOV 07





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Overall Success and Room for Improvement in Refugee
Assistance Projects in Northern Afghanistan


1. (SBU) Summary: During a visit to Kunduz, Baghlan, and Takhar
provinces from November 11-14, the Refugee Section found most FY06
projects well-done and FY07 projects underway. The programs are
vital to refugee reintegration and fill a critical need. In some
cases, they represent the only visible sign of post-war
reconstruction. Overall, the projects get good marks but we need to
increase our monitoring and fine-tune the beneficiary selection
processes to optimize return on our investment. Corruption in the
land allocation program has led to land speculation, construction of
shelters for unqualified beneficiaries, and marginalization of some
desperately poor people. Some educational programs seem to focus on
quantity over quality. We will communicate our findings to the
relevant NGOs' Kabul headquarters, share best practices with our
implementing partners, and conduct more unannounced monitoring and
evaluation of these projects.

The Target Beneficiaries: Recently Returned Vulnerable Families
--------------------------------------------- ---------
2. (SBU) Funding from the State Department's Bureau of Population,
Refugees, and Migration (PRM) targets Afghan refugees who recently
returned from Pakistan, Iran, or other countries of refuge. PRM
funds internally displaced persons (IDPs) but only indirectly
through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Northern Afghanistan has seen an increase in both returnee and IDP
resettlement, particularly in Kunduz, which UNHCR claims has the
country's fifth highest rate of return. Most returnees are Tajiks,
Hazaras, Uzbeks, and Pashtuns, most of whom said they returned two
to three years ago because they loved their homeland and wanted to
come back despite the hardships. Many have seen plenty. Most
families depend on unskilled day labor, share cropping, and minor
animal husbandry for survival. They often have little to no access
to potable water, health care, education, or steady employment.
They have lived with relatives, in ramshackle mud shelters, or in
the case of some IDPs in Baghlan province last winter, in holes dug
in the ground and covered with plastic sheeting. While these
provinces are relatively fertile, the environment is harsh. We
conducted our Takhar monitoring in a massive dust storm that
grounded planes in a nearby Samangan province, closed schools and
shops, and reportedly caused the death of a child. Even the most
basic shelter can mean the difference between life and death.

Christian Children's Fund (CCF) Operates Good Education
and Water Projects in Conservative Kunduz and Takhar
--------------------------------------------- -------

3. (SBU) CCF completed education and water projects in Kunduz and
Takhar provinces with FY06 funds and has started similar programs
with FY07 funds. We watched a rickety but effective well drilling
rig at work in Kunduz, and saw new wells in Takhar that children
could operate. We also visited a sturdy two-room shelter CCF had
built for UNHCR with steel beams and a latrine outside. But as
UNHCR is increasingly seeing, the family expanded the central
hallway for more room, which may decrease the seismic stability.
Most families spent $200-$600 of their own funds to build the
shelters, along with their sweat equity. No one with whom we spoke
went into debt, as some Australian officials have alleged.

4. (SBU) CCF's literacy programs in Kunduz and Takhar were in full
swing when we arrived on our pre-arranged tour. Each child or woman
had a book and seemed eager to learn. Most, if not all, were the
first in their families to learn to read, and for many women and
girls, this is the only education they will ever receive. Overall,
the projects are proceeding well despite sometimes conflicting or
restrictive cultural practices. Several children could not write
their names after two years in the program; many leave during
harvest season to help their parents. We were concerned that the
literacy program siphoned off children from the regular school, but
many parents, citing security and kidnapping concerns, would not
allow their children, especially girls, to walk the 2.5 kilometers
to school. Married Uzbek women in the Takhar literacy program said
their husbands wanted them to learn to read so that they could get
jobs and earn money, but they were not allowed to attend the
male-taught classes at the government school. They asked us to fund
female teachers, but CCF said all the female candidates whom the
school tried to recruit were not allowed to travel to this remote

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area alone or without their husbands, especially for the meager
$60/month salary.

5. (SBU) CCF received FY06 funds to build two schools, but the
construction of one school according to the new GoIRoA school design
absorbed the majority of the funding. The new school, located in a
remote corner of Takhar province, was truly outstanding. The large
concrete building held big, furnished classrooms and even a
teachers' lounge. With the leftover funds, CCF refurbished four
schools; we visited one in Kunduz with a new CCF-funded perimeter
wall. The three-year old, Korean-built 11-room school, however, was
already crumbling, and many of the 2,300 students studied in four
ragged UNICEF tents and six small huts in the inner courtyard. (We
confirmed that 714 girls and 1586 boys attended in two shifts.) We
questioned why CCF did not build more classrooms instead of a wall
and were told that parents would not let their daughters attend
unless a secure wall was built around the outer courtyard that
housed the latrine.

ACTED Shelter Project at the Land Allocation Scheme
LAS) Site in Baghlan: Many Hard Lessons Learned
--------------------------------------------- ---

6. (SBU) Despite the best intentions and excellent work of our
implementing partner, the Agency for Technical Cooperation and
Development (ACTED), the well-located Baghlan site is almost a ghost
town. Whether from a lack of a real need or from a real lack of
complementary services, only 100 out of 747 ACTED-built shelters are
occupied, and 3 out of 36 UNHCR-built shelters. This pilot project
has generated many hard lessons and provided a wake-up call to the
international community that greater oversight is needed. The
project is salvageable but will take strong political will and

7. (SBU) Due to security concerns, the Refugee Coordinator did not
accompany the Afghan LES Refugee Specialist to Baghlan. The Refugee
Specialist, however, met with male and female shuras, government and
NGO officials, and inspected the beautiful new clinic and
well-constructed shelters. ACTED has a good reputation and long
history of work in Afghanistan, and has built 747 PRM-funded
shelters at the site (out of 840 planned), along with 3.5 kilometers
of road and 40 wells. ACTED also runs community development and
conflict resolution programs, which are vital in these
mixed-ethnicity communities.

8. (SBU) The Baghlan site is a GoIRoA Land Allocation Scheme site,
where the Afghan government provides a 600 square meter plot for
poor returnee and IDP families. The international community then
funds shelter construction for the most vulnerable of these
families. There is evidence that the GoIRoA-run land allocation
beneficiary selection process was rife with corruption. The former
Department of Refugees and Repatriation (DORR) chief allegedly
circumvented the official Beneficiary Selection Committee and drew
up a beneficiary list that included police, shopkeepers, the deputy
Governor, MPs, provincial and central government department heads,
and, according to some claims, even a cousin of President Karzai.
Land speculation was rampant, as the nominal price the beneficiaries
paid for the land (9000 Afghanis ($180) per plot or 1500 Afghanis
($30) per square meter) is vastly below market prices. Reports
surfaced that even local ACTED and UNHCR staff had plots, and some
people own 20-30 plots. Many families and even whole villages had
to pay bribes to be selected as beneficiaries. The Kuchi families
who could not pay the bribe lived in deplorable conditions next to
the site for three years without receiving any land.

9. In the end, DORR allocated 3,000 plots. ACTED and UNHCR --
whose expatriate project managers underestimated the scale of the
corruption -- then provided shelters to the most vulnerable
families among the selected plot allocation beneficiaries. Before
long, these "vulnerable" beneficiaries were modifying the shelters
with high compound walls, fancy gates and individual wells, all of
which cost as much as the $1,000 shelter. We heard reports of plots
and shelters being sold for anywhere from 50,000 Afghanis($1,000) to
$300,000 ($6,000) depending on the plot location. (Sale is illegal;
beneficiaries are supposed to live in their shelters for five years
before selling them.) The good news is that the new DORR chief,
working through the newly-engaged Beneficiary Selection Committee,

KABUL 00003876 003 OF 004

reevaluated the eligibility criteria of 1,000 land allocation
beneficiaries and rejected 900 of them. He said he was able to do
this due to the "support of his tribe and 14 educated brothers," but
he wants a high-level MORR letter supporting the next phase:
physical redistribution of the plots to new beneficiaries. While
this process will hopefully chill land speculation and target truly
vulnerable people, redistribution could be drawn-out and even
dangerous. The DORR chief faces enormous pressure to do nothing and
is considering taking another job.

10. (SBU) The Baghlan site has enormous potential but all parties
now realize that shelter construction is pointless in areas without
concomitant social services. The site currently lacks livelihood
projects, reliable water, and transportation into Pul-e-Khumri,
which is only eight kilometers away on the major highway. A bus
service to town began a few months ago but lasted only three days
after local taxi drivers paid the bus driver to claim he had no
riders. The driver kept the fares, the local Department of
Transportation discontinued the bus service, and now, instead of
paying the 5 Afghani bus fare (10 cents), residents must pay several
dollars each way. Since most residents make only two or three
dollars a day as unskilled laborers, many cannot break even after
paying their transportation costs. One family left because "they
starved for three days," another because a family member died of
exposure over the winter. Other beneficiaries moved back to town,
and their shelters collapsed when last winter's snowfall piled up on
their roofs. Project residents were supposed to be employed by the
Hungarian PRT-funded brick factory but the $150/month salary they
were promised (and the free bricks for vulnerable families) never
materialized. Instead, residents were offered (and they refused)
$2.50/day and no transportation to the factory three kilometers
away. (Note: UNHCR felt that some of these families had a
"refugee camp" attitude, developed after years of dependency in
Pakistani camps where aid organizations provided extensive services
at their doorsteps. End note.) All these issues underscore that
land allocation sites need holistic development that incorporates
shelter and services if they are to become viable "pull factors" for
Afghan refugees considering repatriation.

Shelter for Life Strengthens Communities with Bridges
and Shelters in Takhar Province
--------------------------------------------- ---------

11. (SBU) Shelter for Life (SFL) built bridges and shelters in
several districts in under-served Takhar province, which is still
studded with rusty Soviet tanks and charred personnel carriers.
Beneficiaries spoke warmly of SFL and proudly showed us the six
sturdy bridges they built in a Cash-For-Work program. Village
residents said that cars routinely fell off the wooden bridges into
the canal, and they had to load and unload donkeys to get over each
crossing. (To reach this area, we drove through a wide river and
marsh that will be impassable after the winter rains.) Along with
the bridges, the SFL shelters were well-built and completed on
schedule, although the tour included only the shelters SFL selected.
While we found no blatant corruption, we did find many of the
residents were IDPs, and not refugees. We also saw many shelters
with few belongings, or being used primarily for storage. (One
family used the latrine for storage, and another stored their onion
harvest in the shelter.) We doubled-back on our own to a shelter we
had visited that morning and found only a small girl who said the
family "had gone to the other house."

12. (SBU) We are concerned that beneficiaries either do not need
their shelters or did not qualify in the first place. We examined
SFL's beneficiary applications and found their interview process to
be thorough but highly subjective. Beneficiaries are also confirmed
by the local shura council but that too can be subject to "you
scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" when it comes to designating
family and tribal members to receive plots. These projects
highlight the difficulty in working with an opaque tribal culture
such as in Afghanistan. SFL has worked in Takhar for many years and
probably has the most experience in targeting vulnerable people, and
even they have most likely included non-eligible people in their
beneficiary selection.

13. (SBU) Our implementing partners, for the most part, are meeting
their project objectives and indicators, but we need a more

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transparent LAS program beneficiary selection process, with greater
oversight and follow-up. UNHCR is considering taking the land
allocation process away from provincial DORR offices, which will
undermine capacity-building goals but help ensure the right people
receive assistance. It is a delicate balance; too aggressive an
effort could threaten UN and NGO staff security and jeopardize their
continued involvement with the project. We are holding a strategy
meeting with UNHCR and donors on November 24 to discuss reforming
the land allocation program in light of the pilot project
experiences. UNCHR and the donor community agree that, while
flawed, these programs are important and still worth pursuing -- and
thus worth improving.

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