Jamie Larcombe was a quiet, decent young man from a hardworking and honest family.
He lived on Kangaroo Island, as I do.
Jamie was a sapper (military engineer and infantryman) in the Australian army. He was killed by insurgents in Afghanistan on February 19th. He was 21 years old.
1,000 people attended his funeral in Kingscote on Friday.
Jamie was known and well liked for his openness, sense of humour and commitment to his community through sport and as a CFS (Country Fire Service) volunteer.
There is a sense of loss in the whole KI community. There is also thankfulness for Jamie’s courage, and for his willingness to undertake duties for his country which were demanding and dangerous.
Prime Minister Gillard said that in honouring Sapper Larcombe she honoured all engineers for their critical work.
“Jamie Larcombe knew why he was in Afghanistan and he did not resile from the job. Australian forces were working under a United Nations mandate, taking the fight to the insurgents, to assist with building governance and capacity, and of course to train the Afghan national army. Jamie Larcombe died doing these three things.
Sapper Larcombe’s loss was not in vain. We best offer his sacrifice by maintaining our resolve and backing his mates as they continue to do the job until the job is done.”
She is right.
Jamie believed in what he was doing. If we believe in it too, then we must not falter in our resolve to continue to help the people of Afghanistan build a safe and stable society.
There is a long way to go.
The Karzai government is duplicitous, lazy and corrupt. The South and East of Afghanistan are still largely controlled by the Taliban, and Western forces struggle to gain the confidence and trust of the local Pashtun people.
But despite the difficulties, there has been extraordinary progress over the last ten years.
According to the World Bank, in 2000 Afghanistan was in the lowest percentile in all six key areas of governance the bank tracks: accountability, rule of law, control of corruption, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, and political stability.
Average income was less than 50c per day, making Afghans amongst the poorest people in the world. Infrastructure, never good to begin with, had collapsed. Roads were not maintained, medical care and educational facilities were almost inoperative.
Only a third of Afghans were able to read or write, and few girls were enrolled in any form of schooling. Over the previous twenty years, as many as fifty percent of Afghans had been killed, wounded or displaced. Less than one fifth of the population had access to clean water.
After the UN (in reality the US and a few key allies like Britain and Australia) intervened following the 9/11 attacks, life for ordinary Afghans began to improve dramatically.
In October 2004 the country held its first ever presidential election. In September 2005, the first parliamentary election since 1973.
GDP increased by 29% in 2002, and averaged 14% growth per year from then to 2009.
By 2008 children were being immunised against diptheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus at a higher rate than anywhere else in South Asia, and at rates comparable to Western democracies.
School enrolments went from 1 million in 2001 to nearly six million in 2008, and the proportion of female students rose from 2% to nearly 40%.
Roads were repaired, and hospitals opened. Most Afghans now have access to sanitation and clean water.
All of this, the most dramatic growth and improvement in any state and economy since Europe’s post World War 2 recovery, has been a result of the courage and commitment of ordinary men and women like Jamie Larcombe.
Rest in peace, Jamie. And thanks.
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