Much progress has been made in Afghanistan, but the needs of the nation remain enormous. This month, Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani said the government needs up to $20 billion over the next five years to rebuild the country and end its dependence on foreign aid.
The price to the international community for rebuilding Afghanistan is high, but the price of ignoring Afghanistan is even higher. Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah recently urged the U.S. to follow through on its pledges to help rebuild his country, saying "anti-terror efforts will succeed only if the Afghan people see signs their lives are improving."
One of the biggest obstacles faced by Afghans is the lack of economic opportunity in their country. The situation is particularly difficult for women who are saddled with cultural traditions that make it difficult to work outside the home. But despite these restrictions, some courageous women are openly engaging in business, taking their products to market and working to expand their cottage industries.
To support and encourage this positive development, Mercy Corps is launching a micro-financing program that will provide loans and business training to impoverished women in Kabul. The program seeks to increase household incomes for economically active but poor women and to empower women by providing access to financial services and training.
Investment in education continues to be a critical priority. In August, Afghanistan's Education Minister said, "Only 3 million of the nation's estimated 4.5 children were enrolled in school, largely due to a massive shortage of teachers and school buildings."
Across the board, Afghanistan is in desperate need of international assistance. And further compounding the need is the large remaining refugee population.
Across the border in Pakistan, Mercy Corps continues to work with these refugees. This year, over 68,000 refugees in camps have received medical treatment through basic health units launched and operated by Mercy Corps with funding from the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR). In addition, disabled Afghan refugees - many of them landmine victims - are receiving assistance at the orthopedic workshop and physical rehabilitation clinic that is funded by the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.
With millions of Afghans still outside their country and many others still internally displaced, Mercy Corps' task and challenge to aid them will require strong and continued donor support.
Mercy Corps is continuing with humanitarian assistance, reconstruction, and development initiatives in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. But Mercy Corps is also focusing on capacity building as a long-term objective. With funding from the Department for International Development (DFID), Mercy Corps has recently begun a large-scale capacity building program for local NGOs and institutions in southern Afghanistan. The goal is to build independent, sustainable organizations so that in the long-term the region has the resources and capacity to meet its own needs.
Afghanistan has a long road ahead. Statistically it has one of the lowest levels of development in the world. But turning this record around will take time and money - to dig new wells, train more doctors, and build new hospitals, schools and roads. While this goal may seem elusive, it is worthy of our greatest efforts - for the future of the children of Afghanistan and the children of the world.