Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Community Action Program

The reconstruction effort in Iraq have thus far been predominantly unsuccessful in revitalizing the county or stemming the conflict in Iraq. We have all heard the stories of corruption, waste mismanagement, etc. There are however several groups involved in reconstructing Iraq that achieve success on a daily basis, but due to security concerns cannot publicize these successes.

Most of these organizations are part of the Community Action Program (CAP) funded by USAID. These organizations are on the ground in Iraq supporting community organized and implemented programs that make a notable difference in the respective communities. CAP organizations contract all work directly to Iraqi firms, thus offering the thousands of employed Iraqi youth an alternative to militias and criminal syndicates. They provide Iraqis with the opportunity to have a say in their own future by identifying their own needs and developing programs that will address them.

Because the specific work these organizations do cannot be publicized, it is not unusual for them to simply be lumped in with all the other reconstruction organizations such as Halliburton and Parsons. Nothing could be further from the truth. CAP programs are run quite efficiently and have a high rate of success. For example while the Halliburtons of Iraq spend up to 50% of their budget on security, CAP organizations spend only a negligible amount for the simple reason that there do not have to fear attacks from the community. The communities are the ones who devise and implement the development plans and so they are very much in support of the CAP programs. Bruce Parmelee, the Middle East Director of CHF International who has spent the last 4 years working with CAP, explains:
"Before we could do anything, the community would have to agree. I would tell them, 'It's for your community. You're the Iraqis. You can pave the way for this to happen.' And they did that. It was never a case of some American saying, 'This is what you need in your country.' People won't attack projects that they feel ownership of."
Also, according to the US government's own auditors the CAP programs have a success rate of 98%. Thus far the CAP program has helped:

* build/repair 830 schools;
* repair 337 roads;
* complete 325 water resource projects;
* launch 298 health-related initiatives; and
* improve 292 electric utility centers.

Yet despite being among one of the only things going right in Iraq today, CAP organizations must constantly fight with the administration for funding. In January, Bush will again ask for supplemental funds, but it is still unclear what funding CAP will receive if any. I do know that EPIC and many other Iraq-minded NGO's will be fighting to include substantial funding for CAP.

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