The correspondence between the chief of the US watchdog on Afghanistan reconstruction and the administrator of the UN’s development agency over a trust fund bankrolling the Afghan police force is an entertaining read.
In a series of letters, John Sopko, special inspector general, alleged that the UN agency mismanaged the trust fund, known as LOTFA, allowing the Afghan interior ministry to milk $200 million in “deductions.” Since 2002, the trust fund has channeled $3.17 billion in salaries and operating costs. The US has paid $1.2 billion of it.
A few years after 9/11, I worked for an aid agency in Kabul. One of the memories I cherish most is that of Sahar, a soft-spoken Afghan who was 20 then. Her mom didn’t like her working, because she was a woman. But she showed up every morning, her head wrapped in chador and her large brown eyes both cautious and curious. I taught her how to use Excel and convert Afghanis into U.S. dollars. She said she wanted to be an interior designer someday.
One time, she told me in passing that she’d never smoked a cigarette. So I bought a pack, locked the office door, and showed her how to smoke (“Inhale, Sahar, inhale”). I don’t think she enjoyed the taste, but she was thrilled to hold a cigarette.
Cyclone Nargis ravaged Myanmar in May of 2008, wiping out the Southeast Asian country’s western coast. The opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest, and the military Myanmar government, apprehensive about the waves of incoming foreign aid workers, allowed only Asian passport-holders to enter the country for post-disaster reconstruction work.
Aceh, Indonesia — When the Tsunami struck last December, Ibu Aja Cut of Teunom Village in the Aceh Jaya District on Aceh’s West Coast lost all her family members, save two grandchildren. Her house vanished off the face of the earth. The 70-year-old spent the next nine months in a six square meter emergency tent with her two surviving grandchildren. Two weeks ago, they moved into a newly erected temporary shelter. In the 36 square meter room with wooden walls, a metal roof, an open kitchen and two makeshift beds, Ibu Aja Cut, for the first time since the disaster, sees ray of hope.