I'd like to thank you for giving us the opportunity to make known our point of view and to put forward some comments and analyses. We know that you are addressing many different issues and we'd like to take advantage of this opportunity, over the next couple of minutes, to give you our viewpoint and recommendations regarding Afghanistan.
Like the Canadian government, we as NGOs also want to contribute to helping realize an Afghanistan that's peaceful, stable, and self-reliant. World Vision, as a child-focused agency, has a particular interest in the plight of girls and boys and their families and communities. We want to make sure they have a brighter future in this country after many years of turmoil and poverty. All of us as NGOs here share the same hope and aspiration.
There are a number of issues I want to raise today, and I will focus on three particular recommendations.
World Vision and other NGOs present here today have various levels of involvement in Afghanistan for ourselves. We've been operational since 2001 in the northwest part of the country. We are involved in various programs in the areas of agriculture, livelihoods, food security, nutrition, health, and water. We are currently assisting over 500,000 people and operating on roughly a $17 million budget. Our six-plus years of being on the ground have given us the opportunity to interact at different levels, but especially at the grassroots level, and to gain an understanding of the realities that exist on the ground in that particular part of the country. We've learned this also through operating in similar environments in other parts of the world, including Darfur, south Sudan, Sri Lanka, the West Bank, and so on.
I'd like to briefly preface what I'd like to emphasize today by having a bit of a distinction about the context of humanitarian assistance and what this means.
When we talk about humanitarian assistance, what we're really referring to is saving lives and alleviating poverty. When we do this, it must be provided in accordance with issues of impartiality, neutrality, independence, and humanity. When we talk about long-term development, especially in the context of Afghanistan, we're talking about a much more complex set of processes that involve a community-based, long-term approach, but one that is also focused on building the capacities of individuals, communities, and the local and national governments. Ultimately the goal is to see these communities become self-sufficient and productive, and it is in this framework that I'd like to make my recommendations this morning.
Our first recommendation is that as you consider ongoing Canadian support for development work in Afghanistan, we would recommend strongly that funding decisions and supports be primarily driven by needs and priorities identified by the Afghan people, especially within the communities where they reside. This means for us that there has to be a broad strategic approach with an overall country perspective in mind, ensuring that results are happening at the grassroots level.
What we are seeing over the past two to three years in Afghanistan is that donor resources have been unevenly distributed, often favouring areas of high poppy cultivation or regions of so-called heightened security, and this uneven distribution has created and probably worsened grievances that have existed historically in communities but that have now been heightened as a result. Often the failure of development actors to ensure that the quieter provinces in the north and the west receive a tangible peace dividend has played into the north-south fault line within the country and contributed to an increase in security that we are seeing in more and more parts of the country. Poverty levels are extreme throughout the country, so for us it's critical that all parts of the country receive tangible benefits from international and community support, and we encourage Canada to do that as well.
We want to make sure as well that donor funding not only is more equally distributed, but also is not primarily focused on urban centres, as often there is little trickle-down within the grassroots. We want to make sure that the population, wherever it is located in the country, gains confidence and hope that they will also benefit from international and government aid efforts. I'm not suggesting that Canada should support programming in every province or district of the country, but certainly that the bilateral assistance should be more evenly spread as a result of the comments that I made, and again I want to emphasize community base and grassroots.
Second, we would like to further emphasize that Canadian aid strategies should recognize that development funding delivered in partnership with NGOs can often be the most effective and sustainable way to fight poverty, and this also applies to Afghanistan.
Right now, we estimate that less than 15% of humanitarian development funding is channeled through NGOs and civil society groups in Afghanistan, which means the rest goes to the multilaterals, such as the UN or the World Bank, or to private contractors. We often see some leveraging capacity that we have as NGOs, which those larger institutions don't have, especially in terms of our ability to interact and relate and sustain our presence in local communities. I think that gives us a comparative advantage in terms of our ability to implement activities, but also to show results from those activities. As well, we are often able to work in areas the large institutions are not necessarily able to work in. Sometimes, the cost of assistance through a number of NGOs may be a bit higher, but we have to again take into account the benefits as a result of that as well.
Just to offer a quick word on military involvement in the context of developing assistance, we increasingly note the trend to channel more resources through military actors, including the provincial reconstruction teams. While well-intentioned, the military too often employs approaches that don't actually cultivate community ownership or capacity-building or allow them to engage in a longer term. We have to balance the need to get some quick activities or a job quickly done with the need to have a longer-term, sustained presence.
Finally, the last point I want to make is that sustainable development needs stable local governance. Canada's approach to developing Afghanistan should support the development of strategies that can build up subnational governance structures. We often refer to some issue-related corruption and lack of capacity in that country, and we're aware of it, but what we would like to see happen more is that there be more investment in the capacities of local governments and local communities.
I myself witnessed this when I travelled to Afghanistan a few months ago and met with different ministries in the areas where we work. They're very much understaffed and they have a lack of capacity. We need to invest not just at the national level but also within the communities so that the local authorities can more effectively provide and deliver services to their own people.
That's an issue we need to be more aware of. It's what we refer to in speaking of investing more in subnational capacities for the government. As World Vision and I'm sure others who are present in this room have seen through our work, as we invest more in local capacities, we can see some more tangible benefits at the end of the day.
In conclusion, I just want to state that contributions and commitments that Canada has made towards Afghanistan are important and need to be recognized; however, such initiatives must be more evenly spread, supported by actors who guide the experience and power Afghans at different levels, especially locally within communities, and be implemented according to Afghan community needs and priorities. Only if we channel our assistance to Afghanistan with those principles in mind will long-lasting, positive development take place in that country. I'm sure we need to recognize that Canadian aid commitments will probably be used more effectively if we take this broader approach.
At the end of the day, what we can see is that Afghan children, families, and communities that we work to assist will have a brighter and better future.
Thank you very much.