Jurm (Afghanistan), Nov.13 (ANI): Since arriving in Afghanistan in 2001, the United States and its Western allies have spent billions of dollars on development projects. Much of that money has been funnelled through the central government, which has been increasingly criticized as incompetent and corrupt.
Private contractors hired by the United States have been known to siphon off almost half of every dollar to pay the salaries of expatriate workers and other overhead costs, but in Jurm, a valley in the windswept mountainous northeast province of Badakhshan, people have taken charge.
They are using village councils and direct grants as part of an initiative called the National Solidarity Program, introduced by an Afghan ministry in 2003.
Before then, this valley had no electricity or clean water, its main crop was poppy and nearly one in 10 women died in childbirth, one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.
Today, many people have water taps, fields grow wheat and it is no longer considered shameful for a woman to go to a doctor.
According to a New York Times report, if there are lessons to be drawn from the still tentative successes here, they are that small projects often work best, that the consent and participation of local people are essential and that even baby steps take years.
The issues are not academic. Bringing development to Afghans is an important part of a counter-insurgency strategy aimed at drawing people away from the Taliban and building popular support for the Western-backed government by showing that it can make a difference in people's lives.
Warlords tormented Jurm in the 1990s, and though it never fell to the Taliban, the presence of the central government, even today, is barely felt.
The idea to change that was simple: people elected the most trusted villagers, and the government in Kabul, helped by foreign donors, gave them direct grants - money to build things like water systems and girls' schools for themselves.
Local residents contend that the councils work because they take development down to its most basic level, with villagers directing the spending to improve their own lives, cutting out middle men, local and foreign, as well as much of the overhead costs and corruption.
The grants were small, often less than 100,000 dollars.
The plan's overall effectiveness is still being assessed by academics, American and Afghan officials, but the idea has already been replicated in thousands of villages across the country.(ANI)