Afghanistan: World Bank to help revitalize highway and aviation networks

Press Release No: 2003/250/SAR
WASHINGTON, March 11, 2003 - The World Bank today approved a US$108 million credit to help remove key transport bottlenecks on an emergency basis, and also support the Government of Afghanistan's efforts to rehabilitate its highway and civil aviation programs. The work will improve physical access to goods, markets, and administrative and social services, all critical to Afghanistan's economic and social recovery.

The Bank also discussed an overall strategy to support Afghanistan's transition over the next two years from an emergency orientation to one focused on longer-term development.

"The Government of Afghanistan has articulated its own development vision, and our strategy has been developed to support and underpin that," said Alastair McKechnie, World Bank Country Director for Afghanistan. "Indeed, it has been exciting to work with a government that has such a clear view of how the international community can serve a truly Afghan vision. Of course, there are huge challenges in building the capacity to deliver on this, but Afghanistan is already a step ahead by virtue of truly driving its own path forward."

More than two decades of conflict combined with a prolonged lack of maintenance has resulted in severe damage to long sections of roads and critical structures such as runways, bridges, tunnels, and retaining walls in Afghanistan. Deterioration of air traffic control equipment and a shortage of qualified operators has reduced the safety and availability of flights, Afghanistan's most practical means for long-range domestic as well as international travel.

The Emergency Transport Rehabilitation Project is designed to help the government meet emergency needs in the short term, while building its capacity to maintain programs in the long term. It will remove key transport bottlenecks, such as collapsed bridges, eroded road sections, disintegrated pavements, damaged tunnels, and unsafe air traffic operation that are seriously hampering Afghanistan's recovery. An element of the project design is to facilitate the employment of local people in the various rehabilitation activities. The project will also provide equipment and technical assistance related to planning, maintenance, and supervision to help build the government's capacity for managing subsequent work. An overarching project goal is to assist the government's efforts in establishing an institutional and policy framework to make Afghanistan's transport sector viable and sustainable into the future.

"Solving Afghanistan's transport problems is absolutely essential to both short-term recovery and long-term development, two areas on which the government has rightly asked international donors to focus equally," said Terje Wolden, a World Bank senior transport specialist and task leader of the project. "Removing the bottlenecks will help the country to promote regional economic integration and facilitate trade, improve delivery of humanitarian aid, and assist reconstruction efforts in all sectors. Providing technical advice will help the government carry on this work after the donors leave."

In the area of land transport, the project will focus on rehabilitation of the Kabul to Pol-e-Khomri-Kunduz highway, including work on the Salang tunnel. The road from Kabul through the Salang pass to Pol-I Khumri covers a critical section of the highway that connects the city of Kabul and provinces to the south, with eight provinces to the north, and connects the country of Afghanistan to both Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The project will also cover other main roads in the north such as the road to Faizabad from Kunduz. In aviation, the project will finance reconstruction of the runway at Kabul's international airport, provision of related equipment to support safe air travel, and upgrading of the water and sanitation system of the airport. It will also support mine clearance activities in all project coverage areas.

The Afghan Assistance Coordination Authority (AACA) will coordinate and facilitate procurement for the project, which will be implemented by the Ministry of Public Works and Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism.

Since April 2002, and as Afghanistan's emergence from conflict made way for reconstruction, the World Bank has approved US$100 million in grants for various development projects. Today's credit, which carries no interest, is the first loan to be provided by the World Bank's International Development Association (IDA) since 1979, when Afghanistan went into arrears after discontinuing payments on its loans. Afghanistan was able to clear its arrears, in part, with the help of Japan, the UK, Sweden, Norway, and Italy, who contributed to a trust fund for this purpose. Additional funds from the multi-donor Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund helped to clear the remaining arrears, allowing Afghanistan to become eligible for loans for projects which move beyond the emergency situation to help meet its longer-term development needs.

The Bank's plan for assisting Afghanistan to meet these needs is spelled out in a Transitional Support Strategy, discussed today, which covers the period from the next 18 months to two years, until the country adopts a new constitution and establishes a representative government. The strategy was designed to directly support the Government of Afghanistan's National Development Framework and focuses on four key areas: improving livelihoods; assisting the government with its fiscal strategy, institutions, and management; supporting governance and public administration reform; and helping to enable private sector development in Afghanistan. Priorities were made taking into account the World Bank's comparative advantage and the interest of other international donors in specific areas of reform.

Specifically, the World Bank is preparing projects which would help the government reconstruct and develop Afghanistan's health sector and revive the banking sector, including reforming public and commercial banks and Afghanistan's Central Bank. The World Bank is also preparing follow-on projects in areas in which it is currently working, such as public administration and labor intensive public works.

The strategy follows a previous World Bank transitional support strategy approved in April 2002, which outlined assistance during the early post-conflict months, when the main focus in the country was on providing emergency relief, securing peace, and working for political normalization.

Note: The IDA credit for the Emergency Transport Rehabilitation Project carries a 0.75 % service charge and has a 40-year maturity, with a 10-year grace period.


In Washington:=A0 Zita Lichtenberg:=A0(202) 458-7953, E-mail: zlichtenberg
In Kabul: Abdul Raouf Zia (93) 70-27-9184, E-mail: