Save the Children has been committed to helping the people of Afghanistan for more than two decades, through conflict, drought, social and political turmoil and oppression.
Despite the fact that Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world, Save the Children has contributed to some remarkable gains in Afghanistan’s development in recent years. Hard fought gains that are not often sufficiently acknowledged and which Afghanistan, Australia and the international community are now working to protect and sustain.
As a key implementing partner for Australia’s aid program in both Uruzgan and Kandahar Provinces, Save the Children delivers AusAID’s flagship program in Uruzgan Province — the Children of Uruzgan program — a $35 million health and education program which targets women and children.
I’d like to underline AusAID’s commitment to working with partners like Save the Children to ensure that Australian aid makes a real difference to people on the ground.
Afghanistan, as I said, remains one of the poorest countries in the world. It is worth pausing here to reflect on some of the challenges for Save the Children, and AusAID, of working in this environment.
Despite recent development gains, thirty years of conflict have crippled Afghanistan’s development. Development of infrastructure and sources of economic growth and self-reliance, improvements in literacy and the strengthening of governance and civic institutions will require a sustained effort for many years to come.
One-third of the population still lives in extreme poverty.
Many Afghans don’t have access to the most basic services, like safe drinking water. Twenty per cent of rural households are always short of food and one in every ten children dies before reaching the age of five.
Across the country, development efforts are constrained by insecurity, poor governance, and corruption.
But there have been gains — which Australia’s aid program has contributed to.
In 2000 there were only about one million children in school — mainly boys.
Now it’s almost eight million children–including more than 2.5 million girls.
AusAID has contributed to rehabilitation of more than 10,000 kilometres of rural roads, the construction of more than 200 schools in Uruzgan province and the training of nearly 100 Afghan Master Teacher Trainers who have in turn trained hundreds of teacher trainers.
AusAID has also funded the training of health workers. In Uruzgan there are more health professionals and more of them are women. There are also more Community Health Workers and midwives, meaning most pregnant women in Uruzgan Province now receive at least one antenatal visit.
In her Prime Ministerial Statement in November last year Prime Minister Gillard said that Australia will not abandon Afghanistan. We will be engaged through this decade at least, and that our contribution would be part of a wider international effort.
All eyes are now looking ahead to 2014 when the country will assume full responsibility for its own security.
Just a few weeks ago Prime Minister Julia Gillard and President Karzai signed a new Partnership Agreement between our two countries.
The Partnership details how Australia and Afghanistan will work together in a number of areas beyond 2014.
The Prime Minister also used the meeting in Chicago to announce an increase in our aid to Afghanistan from $165 million to $250 million a year by 2015-16. This increase is to help sustain the progress that has been made in Afghanistan, including in areas like health and education. But Australia’s commitment is only one side of our partnership with the Government of Afghanistan. The Prime Minister also urged Afghanistan to continue to make progress on its commitment to electoral reform and to hold credible elections, to tackle corruption, to deliver on economic reforms which will promote long term growth and self-reliance, and to support the development and rights of women and girls.
The recent NATO ISAF Leaders meeting was an opportunity for the international community to assure Afghanistan that we will continue to provide support through to 2024. Participants also contributed to helping Afghanistan meet the costs of its security forces. The forthcoming Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan on July 8 will be an opportunity for the international community to make a long-term commitment to Afghanistan’s social and economic development. Both security and development are vital to underpin Afghanistan’s future stability.
Australia wants Afghanistan to be stable and to prosper.
And we are committed to supporting efforts of the Afghan people to build a stable, democratic society, based on the rule of law, where human rights, including the equality of all men and women, are guaranteed under the Afghan Constitution and where it can work towards economic self-reliance.
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