Building Afghanistan's future

After 23 years of conflict, the Afghan people are working with a strong sense of urgency to restore peace and prosperity
The World Bank has produced the Afghanistan Country Update to illustrate the scope and progress of the World Bank's support for Afghanistan, since the re-opening of its Kabul office in February of last year.

In partnership with multilateral lending agencies, NGOs, and donor countries, the people of Afghanistan are building new lives for themselves, their children, and for generations to come.

Afghanistan has installed a new national government, held a national assembly - the Loya Jirga - and elected a head of state. The government has prepared a national budget and development framework to guide the country's reconstruction, and there are signs of economic recovery. Agricultural production has increased by an estimated 82 percent compared to 2001.

With international assistance, the government has undertaken a tremendous effort to eradicate polio and vaccinate against measles and TB. The number of students and teachers returning to school as a result of a donor-assisted Back-to-School Campaign has far exceeded expectations, with 3 million students enrolled and another 1.5 million looking for educational opportunities.

Other results include the training of female teachers, the establishment of a trust fund which is already helping to pay government salaries, the cleaning up of waste in the streets of Kabul, hooking up government ministries to the Internet, and helping the government build a system to use public resources efficiently.

Despite these early results, Afghanistan still faces daunting challenges as it heads into the harshest winter months, with most Afghan people still living in dire poverty. Only 23 percent of Afghans have access to safe drinking water, 12 percent to adequate sanitation, and just 6 percent to electricity.

An estimated 7 million people remain vulnerable to hunger, and the risk of famine is still high. More than 70 percent of schools need repairs, as do most of the country's primary roads. Life expectancy at birth in Afghanistan is 44 years (compared to 59 years for low-income countries worldwide).

The government also faces the enormous tasks of drafting a constitution, introducing a new Afghani currency, developing a sound financial and banking system, holding free and fair elections, and developing a professional national security architecture - all of this while the situation in the country remains highly volatile.

To offset some of these challenges, the World Bank has committed US$100 million in grants for four development projects which the government has begun to implement. These funds are being disbursed through the World Bank-managed Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund. In addition, the Bank is administering a $2 million grant from the Japan Social Development Fund for Afghanistan and a $1.5 million grant from the World Bank Post-Conflict Fund to finance a number of refugee education projects being implemented by NGOs and United Nations-affiliated agencies.

"Establishing operations and helping to build basic governmental institutions in Afghanistan have been enormous challenges for donors and aid organizations alike," said Zita Lichtenberg, a spokesperson for the World Bank's South Asia regional department.

The World Bank has also focused on enabling the government to manage donor funds with transparency and accountability and to outsource program implementation to NGOs, the private sector, and communities.

The Bank has been an active advocate of the importance of channeling donor resources through the government. Channeling funds through the government helps assure that investments are aligned with national priorities. Equally important, it helps build the efficacy and legitimacy of the state, which are both critical in helping to achieve stability in Afghanistan.