Euro zone woes weigh on Afghan aid projects

HERAT, Afghanistan July 28 Sat Jul 28, 2012 6:21am EDT

HERAT, Afghanistan July 28 (Reuters) - Italy and Spain are scaling back the money allotted for development projects in Afghanistan this year as their debt crises widen at home, military officials said.

Italy, which spends almost half its Afghan aid money on education, has wiped 400,000 euros off this year's pledge, leaving 5 million euros, and Spain is decreasing its amount by millions.

Major donors earlier this month pledged $16 billion in development aid through 2015 for Afghanistan, which is less than previous years and separate from individual countries' commitments through reconstruction teams. They also demanded Afghanistan better tackle its widespread corruption.

"Due to the economic situation, we're seeing the biggest amount disappear in a year," said Colonel Francesco Principe, who heads the Italian civilian and military reconstruction team in Herat province in the country's west bordering Iran.

Almost all of Italy's 4,000 troops, the fourth-largest contributor to the NATO-led war, are in Herat, whose base boasts a pizzeria, wine-serving pasta restaurant and two chapels with statues of the Virgin Mary.

The cut 400,000 euros would have mostly covered fuel and support for Italy's aid projects, Principe told reporters. His team's most famous feat is the new Herat airport, which opened in April after a $1.4 million, eight-month build.

Spain's 1,500 troops are distributed between Herat and Badghis province to its north, where they also run a reconstruction team.

This year will see an "important decrease due to Spain's economy" in development funding, said commander for Badghis, Spanish Colonel Luis Cebrian Carbonell.

Compared to the 10 million euros spent last year, Spain has 7.3 million euros this year, Carbonell said, to go for road construction and other projects.

Even for countries with better economic outlooks, aid to Afghanistan is dwindling as the 2014 deadline looms for NATO to withdraw most of its combat troops, sparking concern that the country's crippling corruption and shaky security could mean Afghanistan will not be able to stand on its own two feet.

Principe said six reconstruction teams -- three U.S., two Swedish and one German -- were shut across the country over the last month.

Of the 26 existing today, seven will shut by the middle of next year, he added, meaning their education, health and construction projects will come to an end.

Italy has committed about 36 million euros for development work in Afghanistan since 2005, while Spain has contributed 226 million euros since 2006. (Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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