Richest nations offer £2.1bn aid to Afghanistan

Rich nations offered more than $3bn (£2.1bn) towards rebuilding Afghanistan yesterday as they made good on a promise not to abandon the war-ravaged country after the US-led military intervention.

Commitments during the first day of a Tokyo aid conference were made by 60 countries and most large aid organisations. The UN estimates Afghanistan needs $1.3bn to meet its immediate needs. Donors included the big powers such as the US, Japan and Britain, which unveiled multi-million pledges, while countries such as former Taliban ally Saudi Arabia, Iran and China, also lined up to contribute. The EU committed $900m over the next five years. US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, promised $296m, telling Afghanistan's interim leader Hamid Karzai that "the American people are with you for the long-term".

Unveiling Britain's £200m donation, Clare Short, the International Development Secretary, described the recons- truction process as having "bumps on the way", but she was confident that Afghans would have a "better way of life than before 11 September".

The problem in providing the aid is that it is difficult to know where to start. The Afghan economy has been shattered by 25 years of war. There is no effective central state administration and no money. TV pictures of mountain villagerstrying to survive on grass-flavoured soup attract international attention. But most Afghans are malnourished rather than starving. There is food in the markets, but the key problem is the destitution of most of the population.

A quarter of the children die before the age of five. In the Shomali plain, once filled with vineyards, 80 per cent of children are malnourished. In the country as a whole, about 30 per cent of boys and less than five per cent of girls are enrolled in primary schools.

The defeat of the Taliban has had benefits however. The main north-south road through the Salang tunnel in the Hindu Kush mountains is open again.

But the warlords and gang leaders the Taliban expelled are back in business, particularly in the south of the country.

Haji Gullalai, the intelligence chief in southern Kandahar, said about 20,000 Afghan tribal fighters were ready to attack Herat in western Afghanistan, amid complaints that local warlord Ismail Khan is letting in Iranian fighters and preying on trade convoys.

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