Conference on Post-War Afghanistan
USF event puts spotlight on sustainable, healthy economy and environment for Afghanistan and the region.
By Vickie Chachere
TAMPA, Fla. (April 30, 2012) – Long before the Taliban took power or before the American invasion in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Afghanistan was what it remains today: an impoverished nation with an undeveloped economy, an archaic water system vulnerable to the whims of climate change and a vast wealth of untapped natural resources subject to exploitation.
As American forces prepare to withdraw by the end of 2014, a newly-signed agreement has the U.S. pledged to fund Afghan security forces for a decade more. The U.S. also has pledged to support Afghan economic development, health care programs, education and social initiatives in the eight-part agreement described as a broad framework of engagement for U.S.-Afghan engagement for years to come.
Exactly what shape the economic and environmental components will take will be the focus of high-level conversations at the University of South Florida May 7-9 in a conference on the future of agriculture, energy and mining in post-war Afghanistan.
Water: the Key to Regional Stability thru Sustainable Partnerships will draw military, development and corporate leaders to USF’s Joint Military Leadership Center for three days of discussions on Afghanistan and its neighboring region.
A girl, left, sells chickpeas to earn money for her family in Islamabad, Pakistan Monday, Oct 31, 2011. As of Oct. 31, according to the U.N. Population Fund, there will be 7 billion people sharing Earth's land and resources. Experts say most of Africa and other high-growth developing nations such as Afghanistan and Pakistan will be hard-pressed to furnish enough food, water and jobs for their people, especially without major new family-planning initiatives. (AP Photo/B.K.Bangash)
“Afghanistan is the focus, but these are global concerns,” said USF College of Public Health Professor Tom Mason, an epidemiologist who has long worked at the intersection of public health, the environment and human security issues.
Mason has organized the conference, which will drawn experts from a wide-range of interests in Afghanistan: from military officers, public health officials, diplomats, aid workers and Afghani citizens.
Last month, The New York Times noted the extreme anxiety from both the foreign and native business communities as troop withdrawals moved toward their deadlines and the uncertain future of a largely agrarian society left to fend for itself. Mason said the USF conference aims to address that grim outlook by tackling Afghanistan’s development problems at their very root: water, energy and the nation’s untapped mineral wealth.
“Most people think of water as something that is essential for health and for survival,” said USF Professor Mohsen Milani, a leading scholar on the region and executive director of USF’s new Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies. “What is much less clear to them is the intersection between water problems and shortages and U.S. national security interests. Among other things, this conference highlights the profound importance of this intersection by focusing on Afghanistan.”
An interesting addition to the event will be participation from multinational corporations which also play a role in the region’s future: Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble and General Electric are among the corporations who have stepped out of their expected roles both in Afghanistan and in other developing nations to bring new technologies, sustainable practices and economic development to struggling nations.
For example, in 2006, Coca-Cola reopened its bottling plant in Kabul, a $25 million investment which immediately created 350 jobs. Earlier this year, the company announced plans to invest another $280 million by 2013 in neighboring Pakistan to develop that growing market for its iconic American beverages. Coca-Cola additionally is working through its Water and Environment Conservation project – partnership with the World Wildlife Federation – to incorporate reforestation, rainwater harvesting and water filtration projects into its expansion in the region.
The USF conference builds on three previous high-level events organized by USF in 2010 and 2011 examining public health, security and politics across Central Asia and the Middle East and the implications for global security.
While the public’s attention has been fixed on the deadline for U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan, much less attention has been paid to what will become of the billions of dollars in aid that has been poured into the nation in an attempt to free Afghanis from the stifling poverty which left them vulnerable to domination by extremist political and religious groups.
Efforts by such entities as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USAID, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Energy have largely flown below the public’s radar when it comes to understand the vast impact of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, yet many experts on the region say it is those efforts that hold the best hope for keeping the nation free of extremist control and empower a population that ranks among the world’s poorest, sickest and least educated.
USF’s conference will focus on three key elements of Afghanistan’s economic future: water, energy and mining. Additionally, participants will consider the economic impact of international troops withdrawing from Afghanistan, considering foreign forces have been a major employer feeding the fragile economy.
Notable speakers appearing at the event are:
· Joe Rozza, Coca-Cola’s Global Water Resource Sustainability Manager who guides community water partnerships and water sustainability efforts across the global supply chain of more than 1,000 plants in 200 countries.
· Jon Freedman, Global Government Relations Leader for GE Water & Process Technologies, who will speak on GE and the energy-water nexus.
· Aaron Wolf, Professor and Chair of the Department of Geosciences at Oregon State University and a noted expert on Middle East geopolitics and transboundary water conflicts.
· Charles Mouzannar, Executive Vice President – Growth Regions & Construction for AMEC Environment and Infrastructure, Inc. AMEC has an extensive contract with the U.S. government to rebuild infrastructure, operations, and security at military bases for the Afghan National Army.
· Laura Jean Palmer-Moloney will join the conference live via Skype from Camp Leatherneck in the Helmand Province, once one of the most dangerous and contested areas of Afghanistan, where she has been working as a principal investigator of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project on water resources management. Moloney is also an Affiliate Associate Professor in USF’s College of Public Health.
The complete agenda can be found here.