United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a surprise visit to Afghanistan today, February 4th (see "On surprise visit, Ban reaffirms UN support for Afghanistan"). During Mr. Ban's meeting with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, the Secretary-General reiterated the UN's support for "Afghanistan remains a key priority in 2009. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) will have strong support and strong engagement with increased support from the United Nations General Assembly and general membership." Mr. Ban continued, "[The United Nations] strategy is simple: to implement the plan agreed to by the Afghan Government and 88 donors in Paris in June last year. This plan is clear and what we need is to get on with it to bring tangible changes on the ground while continuing to assess the situation." (Photo courtesy of the UN News Centre)
According to the UN News Centre press release launching the Humanitarian Action Plan for Afghanistan for 2009 in Geneva on February 3rd, "The United Nations and its partners appealed for $604 million to help meet the needs of Afghans made vulnerable by natural disasters, lack of access to basic social services, increasing food insecurity and the worsening security situation. Some $354 million of the appeal will go towards food aid, while almost $100 million will be used to rid the strife-torn nation of landmines, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told reporters...."
I recognize there are significant challenges in Afghanistan, but where does economic development and support of Afghan entrepreneurs fit in the United Nations' strategy? The appeal states, "Extreme poverty--42 per cent of the population live on less than $1 per day--and lack of development increase the suffering of the population during times of crisis and limit their coping strategies." Security is a significant problem, but the definition of "security" should also include economic security.
Afghans have a great entrepreneurial spirit and they recognize their role to be the primary driver in stabilizing the current crises and positioning the country to better compete in a vastly competitive global economy. Afghanistan hosts numerous economic opportunities such as mining (marble, gold, copper, precious and semiprecious stones), agriculture (pomegranates, wheat and beekeeping), and renewable energy (micro-hydro generators, wind, and solar energy). Trade and commerce should have a larger role in Afghanistan's development strategy and I recommend that the United Nations, The World Bank, and nongovernmental organizations increase their efforts in promoting economic development.