02/03/2011versione stampabileprintinvia paginasend

An open letter from a volunteer with Emergency in Afghanistan, on the question of refinancing the Italian military mission

The Italian military mission in Afghanistan costs two millions euros a day. This is the most recent refinancing budget approved by the Italian parliament, mostly composed of people who probably don’t even know the names of Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries or whether it has a marine coastline or not.

Two million euros is also the annual running cost of an Emergency hospital in Afghanistan (there are currently three: in Kabul, Anabah and Lashkargah). In one year, with the money spent by Italy alone to finance the war, it would be possible to run three hundred and sixty-five hospitals, all of them with high standards offered completely free of charge to the local population. With those kinds of resources perhaps one really could go down in history as having changed the destiny of a nation.

For all its two million euros a day spent, Italy will not go down in history in such a role: more likely, one day, this choice of policy will be remembered only as a mistake, a violation of article 11 of the Italian constitution, something that could easily have been avoided. Perhaps the difference between civility and ignorance is simply the ability to understand how money can best be spent.

Various international organisations – with the World Bank topping the list – provide the Afghan health services with a total of five dollars per year for every citizen. In other words a province with one hundred thousand inhabitants receives five hundred thousand dollars per year with which to run all its health services: this inevitably means that only the most utterly basic of services can be provided.

Each Emergency hospital serves a population of roughly this size, but spends four times as much money in doing so. And let’s not forget that one of the consequences of the war is that the Afghan state depends entirely on international aid for its essential civilian services.

This is not polemical bellyaching. It’s deep disappointment.

Today my whole day has been illuminated by a child’s smile. A gust of misfortune stole one of his hands. He is waving his arm as though the soul of his lost hand still wants to express itself. I observe him. He looks at me and smiles, his huge eyes shining.

For an instant, through his eyes, I glimpse the world as a child sees it. With the same total ingenuity, the same total incomprehension of the stupidity that adults are capable of. At that age the world is perfect, even if the stupidity of adults has deprived you of one of your hands.


Alessandra Ingaria