Afghanistan

Government of Afghanistan and the World Bank Sign Grant Agreements Aimed at Improving Irrigation and Telecommunications Infrastructure

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KABUL, 15 May 2011 –The Afghanistan Ministry of Finance and the World Bank today signed two grant agreements worth $147.8 million from the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA). The agreements include:

  1. A $97.8 million grant for the Irrigation Restoration and Development Project, which builds upon and scales up activities supported under the ongoing World Bank-financed Emergency Irrigation Rehabilitation Project (EIRP). The project will support the rehabilitation of irrigation systems serving some 300,000 hectares of land, design and construct a limited number of small multi-purpose dams and related works, while establishing hydro-meteorological facilities and services.

  2. A $50 million IDA grant for the Afghanistan Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Sector Development Project, which builds on the success of earlier projects and catalyzes the next phase of ICT development in the country. The project will support policy and regulatory reforms and strategic infrastructure investment to expand connectivity and enable more users to access high quality mobile and internet services. It will also help mainstream the use of mobile applications to improve public service delivery and program management in strategic sectors in the Government. The project will help develop the local IT industry by expanding the pool of skilled and qualified IT professionals, and supporting the incubation of ICT companies in Afghanistan.

“Building infrastructure for irrigation and for telecommunications is critical for economic growth and employment generation in Afghanistan,” said HE Dr. Omar Zakhilwal, Minister of Finance (MoF). “Significant progress has been made in both these sectors in recent years and our initial efforts have led to considerable gains for the Afghan people. Growing agricultural production has resulted in food security as well as increased incomes for thousands of farmers while improved telecommunications infrastructure has enabled our people to connect with the rest of the world.”

In 2004, the World Bank financed the Emergency Irrigation Rehabilitation Project (EIRP) which has since become pivotal to the government’s efforts to revive agriculture in Afghanistan. The EIRP covers areas across the country and is designed to respond to the demands of local communities. To date, the project has helped rehabilitate irrigation systems of various sizes over half a million hectares of land. Monitoring data indicate that the area under irrigation has increased by nearly 140,000 hectares, crop yields of wheat, maize, rice, onion, potato and cotton have increased substantially, and water-related disputes have shown a marked reduction. Over five and a half million Afghans have benefitted.

“Agriculture is our country’s hope for growth and given the arid climate, cultivation without irrigation is nearly impossible,” said HE Mohammad Ismail, Acting Minister of Energy and Water. “Improving irrigation infrastructure is therefore key to restoring agriculture productivity. With support from the World Bank’s ongoing project, we have so far been able to rehabilitate 679 traditional irrigation schemes of both medium and large sizes, serving more than 726,000 ha of land in various parts of the country. The new project will help us rehabilitate additional irrigation schemes, which will further improve food security and agriculture productivity.”

The Irrigation Restoration and Development Project will support the Afghan Government’s efforts to: · Further increase the irrigated area by about 15 percent · Increase crop yields by at least 20 percent in project areas · Reduce water-related disputes by at least 30 percent in these areas · Prepare more cost-effective designs for the rehabilitation and development of irrigation systems using improved hydro-meteorological data

The Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector has seen significant growth in Afghanistan. In 2002, there were fewer than 60,000 telephones in operation across the country. By early 2011, the number of mobile telephone subscriptions had risen to an estimated 14 million, and today about 80 percent of the population is covered by the network. The policy and regulatory framework have enabled private sector participation and over $1.6 billion has already been invested by the private sector, creating over 60,000 jobs either directly or indirectly. The national fiber optic network now connects 20 Afghan provinces and most of Afghanistan’s neighboring countries, significantly improving both intercity and international connectivity.

"In the recent past, telecommunications has indeed been one of the few sectors which has seen real development in Afghanistan, with great participation from the private sector," said HE Amirzai Sangin, Acting Minister of Communications and Information Technology. “The government’s policies and regulatory framework have greatly helped the sector’s development. While our current policy framework has provided a conducive environment for public and private participation in the sector, we hope to improve this further by aligning our policies with the needs of a growing market and leveraging the mobile network for improved service delivery. ”

The Afghanistan Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Sector Development Project will support: · increased telephone penetration from 55 percent to 80 percent of the population · increased internet penetration to at least 10 percent of the population, leading to a significant increase in the number of internet users · adding 1000 km to the fiber optic national telecommunications backbone network · training at least 1500 Afghans for the IT industry · supporting at least 10 government agencies to make government information and services available on the mobile phone.

“The World Bank is happy to have financed these two successful government programs,” said Josephine Bassinette, World Bank Acting Country Director for Afghanistan. “Despite many challenges and constraints, the government has made steady progress in building infrastructure for both irrigation and telecommunication. We hope our support helps scale up their achievements, further improving Afghan livelihoods and enabling greater connectivity with the rest of the world through ever-improving telecommunications technologies.”