By Kim Se-jeong
While African delegates were applauding Korea's pledge to double its development aid to Africa by 2012 at the Korea-Africa Forum in Seoul last week, a former U.N. official urged Korea to focus more on the quality and efficiency of the aid.
Kul Chandra Gautam, former assistant secretary general to the U.N., said, "Korea occasionally has a tendency to go for symbolic, visible projects, which are good gifts for public relations purposes both in the recipient countries and with the media in the donor country."
He was speaking at a conference titled "Development Challenges & International Cooperation: Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan," organized by the Asia Foundation, Nov 24.
The Nepalese national continued by saying, "Such projects may be diplomatically or politically justifiable and can earn much goodwill.
But these shouldn't be seen as development cooperation but as special 'gifts' of friendship," he said, referring to the construction of a vice presidential palace in Afghanistan and provision of taekwondo instructors to Nepal.
Gautam also stressed that Korea should come up with flagship initiatives to reflect its own expertise.
He suggested that Korea could take the lead in the sports sector by helping a country's youth develop physically and mentally in countries like Nepal.
Korea had been the recipient of development aid since its liberation in 1945, and remained as such until the mid-1990s. In total, it received $12.7 billion from developed countries, with the majority coming from the United States.
But Korea has become a donor country as it joined the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) last week.
The former U.N. official proposed that Korea pursue an initiative to reduce hunger and malnutrition as a G20 summit agenda item next year. Korea will host the summit next November.
"Canada, which hosts and chairs the G20 Summit in the middle of next year has shown strong interest in a major global nutrition initiative. I would recommend Korea to coordinate with Canada and other key partners to put a major nutrition initiative on the G20 agenda," he said.
The two-day conference brought together experts in development aid from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Korea. Among the participants were diplomats from the three countries, who called for the Korean government to make its development aid policies in those countries in a more focused manner.
Taking the example of the Netherlands, whose focus on water purification is highly regarded in Bangladesh, their deputy chief of mission Muhammed Zulgar Nain said he'd like to see Korea do more to develop communication technology in his country.
Pakistani Ambassador to Korea Murad Ali asked Korea to further expand aid in human resources development. "I want to see Korea help more in human resources development."
The Korea International Cooperation Agency is already engaged in training Pakistani people. For example, it invited approximately 540 Pakistanis to Korea for training, and sent Korean volunteers to conduct training sessions in the fields of education, information and communication.
Earlier this year, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Yu Myung-hwan pledged a $200 million donation to Pakistan.
The needs stated by Afghanistan weren't much different from those of other countries.
Suffering from internal and external conflicts for decades, Afghan Ambassador to Korea Mohammad Karim Rahimi said that among others, "We, Afghanistan, have lost skilled teachers. We need to have good teachers. If we don't have good teachers, then our nation-building is suffering," welcoming Korea's contribution.
Development aid to Afghanistan has witnessed a speedy increase in recent years. According to the foreign ministry, a total of $4 million of aid was given to Afghanistan in 2008.
Yet, so far this year, nearly $30 million has already been given. Korea is providing vocational training and commodities, and is constructing a hospital and training facilities.
In October, Korea announced it would join the 23 countries of the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), which initiated a provincial capacity building project. Korea would support Parwan Province in northern Afghanistan, providing security, governance and development needs.
When it comes to a development aid policy toward Afghanistan, the elephant in the room is the security of local Koreans.
Twenty-three Koreans were kidnapped by the Taliban two years ago, costing the lives of two people, and as recently as this month, a Korean company in Afghanistan was attacked by a militant group.
A ministry official dealing with Official Development Aid policies said, "Because of security reasons, Korea won't send any volunteers to Afghanistan."
The Afghan ambassador said he wants to see Korea become a more courageous donor despite the security concern.
"Fear shouldn't stop us. The result will be negative in the long run," he said, referring to the spread of terrorism around the world. "When you fight against poverty and support the people to overcome it, this means terrorists will be eliminated."