2006 Safety, Security and International Affairs

Alonzo L. Fulgham

Led U.S. foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan to help build a free society.

Five years ago, Afghanistan was a country destroyed. A brutally repressive regime had barred women from access to healthcare, education and society. The country’s entire infrastructure had been decimated by decades of war. Roads, schools, energy, safe water, communications systems… everything was virtually destroyed. With challenges so great, building the foundation for a free society—a stable, democratic government and a market-based economy that creates opportunity and hope for its citizens—seemed impossible to many. Thanks to the leadership of Alonzo Fulgham, Mission Director for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the transformation is well underway.

Except for Iraq, the reconstruction program in Afghanistan is the largest USAID has undertaken since Vietnam, and one of the largest and most complex in the Agency’s history. Last year alone, USAID invested nearly $1.5 billion in Afghanistan and took the lead in an incredibly broad array of projects.

Last fall, following a successful presidential election, the Afghan people elected their first national parliament. Additionally, equal rights and the full participation of women are now mandated by law.

Critical improvements in the nation’s infrastructure are underway. USAID rebuilt the national highways from Kabul to Kandahar and Herat. More than 600 miles of rural roads were built. New national women’s centers are promoting women’s literacy training, civic participation, and business and technical expertise throughout the country. New courts are extending the rule of law.

USAID is also working to revive Afghanistan’s rural economy. Wheat and other vital crop production has increased 24 percent. Livestock and poultry production has increased by $200 million. Irrigation systems in key provinces are being restored. Farm to market roads are being rebuilt. Industrial parks, designed to promote market-based economic growth, are under construction. All are helping provide alternatives to poppy cultivation. In Nangahar province, for example, poppy farming is almost nonexistent.

Fulgham and his partners are expanding access to health care. USAID has built nearly 400 health clinics, trained doctors and health workers, and brought vaccinations, water purification, and medicines into the most remote parts of the country. Thanks to this work, more than 7 million Afghans in 14 provinces can now have hope for a healthier, longer life.

They have also helped to expand educational opportunities. Over a thousand schools have been built or reconstructed. A special “accelerated learning” program is helping teenage children, formerly denied an education, learn to read; almost two-thirds of them are girls.

All of this work was conducted under difficult circumstances. Working and living conditions for Fulgham and his staff are hazardous, the pressures intense, and the importance of good morale is critical. Fortunately, Alonzo Fulgham has provided the leadership necessary to keep his staff positive and focused.

At the same time, he has worked closely with leaders in Afghanistan’s government and society, and served as a key advisor to the U.S. military on reconstruction issues.

He is currently working to refine and expand America’s strategic support and overseeing the doubling of USAID staff to get the job done. Tasked by the U.S. government to continue this good work, USAID will also increase its focus on expanding economic opportunities and training a new generation of teachers.

The people of Afghanistan have come a long way in a short time. Hard work lies ahead and the path forward won’t be easy. But with leaders like Alonzo Fulgham, the American people can look forward to a lasting friendship with an ally of freedom and peace.