| KABUL, March 5
KABUL, March 5 An ambitious U.S.-funded project
to build hospitals in Afghanistan has run into the ground, with
the largest hospital ever planned in the country unlikely to
open in full, U.S. and Afghan officials said.
The $60 million project by the U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID) started in 2008 and aimed to meet the
medical needs of over two million Afghans by 2009.
Five years on, not one of the healthcare centres built under
the project is open. The biggest, 100-bed hospital in eastern
Paktia province is unfinished and may never open, according to
Reuters interviews with U.S. and Afghan officials.
Paktia public health director Baz Mohammad Shirzad said even
if completed, the new facility is far too big for the local
authorities to handle because there were not enough doctors and
other staff to operate such a big hospital.
"With current possibilities, we are only able to run 30
beds," he said.
The USAID project may be small, but it portrays the
wastefulness that has plagued many such programmes drawn up
without examining the capabilities of local communities.
"A health centre that exists is not the same as one that is
used or that actually functions," Doctors Without Borders said
in a report last week.
The aid group said access to healthcare remains as dire as
before the arrival in 2001 of U.S.-led forces that ousted the
extremist Taliban from power.
"The story about healthcare risks being skewed by the
persistent efforts of donors, the international community and
the government to show peace dividends," it said.
USAID confirmed none of the healthcare facilities was in
use, but said many other structures in education, healthcare and
government had been completed on time.
"USAID is proud to have delivered hundreds of new public
service structures to the Afghan people," said a USAID
spokesman, adding that the hospital would be ready in June.
Western powers have poured billions of aid dollars into
Afghanistan as a way to win the hearts and minds of ordinary
Afghans and are keen to project an image of success as foreign
troops withdraw from the country this year.
Development projects are subect to accusations of
wastefulness and inefficiency the world over, but in Afghanistan
the problem is particularly acute as people prepare for an
uncertain future after troops withdraw and the security
Official narratives of success jar with the reality on the
ground, according to Doctors Without Borders, adding that the
number of people in need of access to healthcare was likely to
rise to 5.4 million in 2014 from the current 3.3 million.
The study found as many as one in four Afghans in some areas
had lost a close friend or relative over the past year due to
poor access to healthcare across Afghanistan.
U.S. auditors, known as the Special Inspector General for
Afghanistan Reconstruction, said the biggest hospital built by
USAID may not open at all.
"The new hospital's annual operation and maintenance costs
could exceed five times the annual operating costs for the
hospital it will replace," it said in an October report.
A second, smaller hospital in neighbouring Paktika province
is also unfinished and may be unsustainable, it said.
(Additional reporting by Samihullah Paiwand in Gardez; Writing
by Jessica Donati; Editing by Maria Golovnina and Ron Popeski)