HC Deb 20 April 2004 vol 420 cc13-4WS
The Secretary of State for International Development Hilary Benn)

The Foreign Secretary, the Minister for Trade and Investment and I attended the donor conference on Afghanistan held in Berlin on 31 March and 1 April, at which donors were invited to respond to the recent needs assessment compiled by the World Bank.

The conference was an opportunity for donors to: assess the political progress that has taken place in Afghanistan since the Bonn and Tokyo conferences of 2001 and 2002; discuss the challenges that now face the Afghan Government; and demonstrate continued commitment to Afghanistan's long-term future development.

The announcement by President Karzai of the plan to hold elections in September was warmly welcomed. At a side meeting donors pledged an additional $65 million to the election process, helping to keep it on track. The UK pledged an additional $5 million, taking our overall election funding to $24 million. Preparations for elections are on course although security for a free and fair election remains a major concern.

Donors demonstrated their commitment to Afghanistan, by pledging US$8.2 billion of assistance over the next three years. This represents two thirds of Afghanistan's requirements over this period, and it is hoped folly to meet Afghanistan's needs with increased money becoming available from donors that were only able to make one-year pledges in Berlin. Of this new pledge over half, US$4.5 billion, is for this financial year. This meets Afghanistan's request for the year and is more than double the amount disbursed in Afghanistan last year. This increase comes at an important time, as a number of Government programmes become effective and the Government's capacity to absorb funds and implement programmes increases.

As I outlined in my statement to Parliament prior to the conference, 1 March 2004, Official Report, column 74WS, I announced an increase of the UK's commitment to Afghanistan from £200 million over five years to at least £500 million over the same period. This funding is to support a range of reconstruction work, support for conflict prevention, and the counter narcotics effort. A booklet outlining DFID's programme in Afghanistan has been placed in the Library of the House.

Many donors acknowledged the particular challenges that both drugs and the security situation present to Afghanistan's successful development. I emphasised to the conference the UK's commitment as lead donor to tackling the opium industry in Afghanistan, and many other donors also acknowledged the importance of dealing with this. The UK's specific provision of £70 million over three years to tackle this problem is an important lead and we are working closely with other donors to increase their funding in this area and to ensure that all development assistance is delivered in a way which supports counter-narcotics objectives. In the light of the importance that the conference attached to this problem, it was also a real achievement for the Afghan Government that they signed the Berlin Declaration on Co inter Narcotics with the six signatories to the Good Neighbourly Relations Declaration, agreeing a common stance on tackling drugs in the region.

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