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31 January 2006: Transformation signifies a brighter future in Afghanistan

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2004
Edward Carwardine with children of Afghanistan.

By Edward Carwardine

Marking his fourth anniversary as UNICEF’s Communication Officer in Afghanistan, Edward Carwardine reflects on the transformation the country has undergone during his tenure, and the prospects for further development following the Afghanistan Compact Meeting in London.

KABUL, Afghanistan, 1 February 2006 – Today, two items are marked red in my calendar. One is the closing day of the Afghanistan Compact meeting in London, a gathering that will design the roadmap for future reconstruction in Afghanistan. The second is the fourth anniversary of my arrival here. These two events remind me that development in Afghanistan is like an unending continuum; every day we see more successes – and unveil more challenges.

Looking back over four years, I am struck by the process of transition that has emerged. Within UNICEF, our role has moved from service provider to service supporter. Four years ago, UNICEF delivered a range of programmes on behalf of the Government – from immunization to school materials. While we still make significant contributions to such programmes, our Government partners now spearhead the process, taking the lead in managing design and implementation of outreach services for children and mothers. This is an important sea-change. Afghanistan has shifted from an emergency phase to one of sustainable development.

© UNICEF/ HQ00-0951/Roger LeMoyne
Her textbook open in front of her, a girl sits listening with others in an outdoor class of grade one students, in a non-formal girls' school in Jalalabad, capital of the eastern province of Nangarhar.

There is also a level of sophistication within the machinery of society that has developed since 2002. We have witnessed the growth of democratic institutions: presidential and parliamentary elections, more technocratic ministries; a cadre of civil administrators designing policy and process, and a public that is demanding greater accountability from those of us working on the development agenda. The Afghanistan of today is barely recognizable to the Afghanistan I arrived in just four-years ago.

Recently, I attended a briefing session for Afghan journalists on the Afghanistan Compact. The Compact itself is a sign of the new relationship between the Government and the international community. Key benchmarks have been set to measure progress. Encouragingly, those related to child and maternal mortality, and education, are at the heart of the document. The relationships between government, donors and the United Nations are being redefined, with the understanding that the nation’s leadership has to enjoy more responsibility, and more accountability, for the rebuilding process.

I listened to journalist after journalist question, challenge, critique and comment on the process. They did not want to hear the usual promises of commitments – they wanted assurances that those commitments would be met. The Afghan media’s acknowledgement of its role as an advocate for change is another indication of how much the country has grown.

© UNICEF/ HQ02-0044/LeMoyne
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai speaks at the launch celebrating the opening of the new school year in Afghanistan, at the Amania high school in Kabul, the capital.

The Compact itself exposes the fact that Afghanistan still faces many challenges. Some 600 children under-five die every day here, mostly from preventable causes. With at least 50 expectant mothers dying each day, women still fear pregnancy. Millions of primary school children, mostly girls, have no access to education. Disparities are evident, between provinces, districts, communities and families. Women and children have undoubtedly benefitted from progress in core areas related to the Millennium Development Goals since 2002, but we need to take on the challenges that remain.

With a focus on women and children within the Compact, the London summit will serve Afghanistan well. Investments in health and education will keep children and women alive today, improve their prospects for growth tomorrow, and contribute to poverty reduction in the long-term. Delivery of life-changing services nationwide reduces the divide between communities, and can help build a social contract between a population and its leadership. All these issues are central to Afghanistan’s continuing development.

The Compact sets itself a timeline of five years to deliver on its commitments. I am going to mark that date in red in my calendar as well. I’ll want to know if we have kept to the timeline of our promises. And so will Afghanistan’s children and their mothers.



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