The Department for International Development has been urged to review its aid programme in Afghanistan to focus on poverty reduction, after an independent report found some projects designed to boost economic growth are performing poorly.
The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) rated the DFID's bilateral support for growth and livelihoods in Afghanistan - which makes up about one-third of the UK's £190 million annual official aid programme in the country - as "amber/red", meaning it performs "relatively poorly" and "significant improvements should be made".
ICAI reported that UK-funded projects to remove landmines and build roads had done well, but found that there was "no evidence of long-term sustainable change" as a result of a £19 million rural development programme. Despite an initial fall in opium poppy production in Helmand province following the launch of efforts to encourage farmers to switch to alternative crops, cultivation had since increased to more than 100,000 hectares in 2013, compared to 65,045 in 2010.
The report suggested that some programmes were over-ambitious and may struggle to survive following the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan, planned for this year.
It urged DFID to ensure that the intended beneficiaries of schemes are consulted on the design of projects, to ensure that their actual needs are addressed.
ICAI acknowledged that Afghanistan is one of the most difficult places in the world to deliver aid, and said that DFID staff "work hard under demanding conditions".
But it added: " Although the projects that we reviewed were, on the whole, well delivered, we found mixed results. The more ambitious and multi-faceted projects were less successful than those with more limited scope.
"Our field work provides evidence that a positive difference is being made to the livelihoods of intended beneficiaries in the areas we surveyed. It is not clear, however, how positive impacts will, in all cases, be sustained in the long term"
ICAI chief commissioner Graham Ward said: "DFID faces a challenge to ensure that its future growth and livelihoods portfolio is sufficiently coherent and flexible, given an increasingly uncertain future. The on-going international military drawdown is an important opportunity for DFID to focus its future strategy solely on poverty reduction and to reposition itself as the lead operator of the UK's presence in Afghanistan."
And Mark Foster, who led ICAI's review of projects in Afghanistan, said, "Once international military forces have left Afghanistan, by the end of 2014, meeting the humanitarian and development needs of the poor is likely to become even more difficult. It is vital, therefore, that DFID selects the right mix of projects for this context - projects that focus on the needs of intended beneficiaries and that are based on sound evidence."
A DFID spokesman said: "ICAI recognises that Afghanistan is one of the most challenging places in the world to work and two Britons were amongst those who recently lost their lives in suicide attacks in Kabul.
"Our post-2014 planning will take all ICAI's recommendations into account as DFID staff continue to work hard to deliver projects in an incredibly difficult environment."