Organization criticizes Canada for trying to open up the definition of development assistance to include money spent on the support of security personnel in countries like Afghanistan.

International donor countries are focusing their aid money on Afghanistan, Iraq and other nations they feel are of strategic importance rather than those deemed to be the poorest and neediest, a new report says.

In addition, the Reality of Aid Network’s 2006 global report found that in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, aid workers are being put at risk because they are being identified with military operations mixing combat and humanitarian missions.

“This confusion of roles can easily put both humanitarian workers and local populations in danger as they become identified with a military party to the conflict,” the report states.

Last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced an additional $15 million in rural development aid for Afghanistan. So far the government has planned to spend approximately $1 billion in the country over 10 years.

Since 2001, the Canadian government has increased foreign development funding by eight per cent per year. Canada currently contributes 0.34 per cent of its gross national product to foreign aid.

But the Reality of Aid Network says that of $27 billion in new aid made available by international donors like Canada between 2000 and 2004, $10 billion has been spent on Iraq and Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the single largest recipient of Canadian foreign aid.

In contrast, less than $7 billion was made available during the same period for the UN’s much-vaunted Millenium Development Goals.

In addition, many countries are spending large amounts of money on efforts to train and bolster military and security personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq and trying to pass it off as development aid, the report says.

The result is less money being focused on poverty alleviation and other traditional development goals.

“Some donor governments have taken unprecedented steps to change the basic mandate and guiding principles of their aid programs to include the promotion of donor security and to combat terrorism,” the report states.

Gerry Barr, president of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, agrees that it is imperative to establish security and stability in countries like Afghanistan, but “that is not to say that military operations are development.”

Reality of Aid singles out Canada for allegedly trying to open up the definition of development assistance to include money spent on the development of security personnel in countries like Afghanistan, which would significantly increase Canada’s standings in relation to other countries that give aid.

“Aid [money] is supposed to be targeted for poverty and development,” Mr. Barr says. “Let us not spend aid money as if it was the handmaiden of a military campaign.”

Kevin McCort, CARE Canada’s senior vice-president of operations, says one positive thing is that Afghanistan is getting a great deal of money for development from Canada, a trend that has not been repeated in any other country Canada supports.

“[Afghanistan] only stands out because the rest of the countries don’t receive nearly as much,” he says.

But Mr. McCort is worried about the military undertaking reconstruction and humanitarian projects and that governments will start using aid and development funding as a weapon, as Canadian officials have been hinting at in Afghanistan in recent weeks,

Quoting from the Red Cross’ code of conduct, which is used by aid organizations around the world, he says aid should be given on the basis of need and agencies should never act as an instrument of the government.

“It’s very worrying to hear that talk,” he says. “It’s an inappropriate use of aid.”

Col. Patrick Stogran, vice-president of the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre and a former army commander who served in Afghanistan for six months in 2002, vehemently denies that Afghanistan was less worthy of aid than other countries.

“It’s one of the poorest countries,” Col. Stogran says. “To suggest Afghanistan is not in need as opposed to other countries…. They are in need.”

He said it’s difficult to separate military and humanitarian operations because, over the years, countries are realizing that one is integral to the other, especially in countries like Afghanistan.

He said the Canadian Forces are aware of the concerns expressed by aid workers that they are being put in danger by being associated with the military, but said: “The insurgents will act against anyone who doesn’t follow their ideology.”

Soldiers stationed in remote and lawless areas may be undertaking the occasional mission to build a school or other humanitarian effort–quick impact projects–but “we are in no way there to provide humanitarian assistance,” Col. Stogran says.

While he said development within Afghanistan is helping support that country’s government and prevent it from being overthrown by the Taliban, he denied as “preposterous” allegations the military and Canadian government are considering using aid funding as a weapon against the insurgents.

Alain Pellerin, executive director of the Conference of Defense Associations, says countries have always spent their aid money in countries that have a strategic interest to them.

“Countries spend money on aid because it’s in their interest to do so,” he says. “If you don’t address the poverty in other countries, it will come back to haunt you.”

Using aid funding to fight the insurgency in Afghanistan is an important tool, he says.

“You want to bring the population that is no longer under the Taliban to your side,” he says. “It’s the stick and carrot approach. If you want to start reconstruction, you have to deny sanctuary to the Taliban.”

He also defended the vast amount of money being spent on security and military training and operations in Afghanistan and other countries on the frontlines of the war on terror.

“Only after the stability has been established can reconstruction begin,” he says. “Security is really the first priority.”

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