Strong economic growth in Afghanistan could serve all its citizens

The World Bank's Country Director for Afghanistan said strong economic growth and successful national development programs should translate into real improvements in lives of Afghans.

Speaking ahead of the Afghanistan Development Forum, underway in Kabul on April 29, Alastair McKechnie said the country is likely to grow in excess of 8 percent over the next five years. I think we will see the economy continue to grow at rapid rates, which in turn will lead to considerable improvements in people's lives."

McKechnie also highlighted Afghanistan's achievements over the past five years, including the country's political consolidation and elections for a president, parliament, and provincial councils.

"A lot has been achieved in five years under very difficult circumstances," McKechnie said. "There has been a massive expansion of basic health care. Access to health clinics has gone up from 9 percent in 2001 to about 80 percent today. There has also been a huge expansion in school attendance throughout the country. More girls are attending school that at any time in Afghanistan's history."

Despite this progress, McKechnie believes Afghanistan offers the World Bank one of the greatest challenges it has ever faced. "Poverty is of sub-Saharan African proportions and rebuilding state institutions after more than two decades of conflict is an enormous challenge."

Security and narcotics also remain huge problems. McKechnie said more than 90 percent of the world opium production is produced in Afghanistan and the money from the drug trade erodes good governance.

In addition, corruption is a growing concern. The World Bank was committed to helping Afghanistan develop an approach that will lead to a substantial decline in corruption over a period of time, said McKechnie.

"Any one of these challenges alone would test any country. Having all of them at the same time shows the enormity of the challenges that Afghanistan faces."

Speaking about the World Bank's role in Afghanistan, McKechnie said all of the World Bank money goes through the government budget. "We consider this the best way to have Afghans take responsibility for their own future and for us to help them build the institutions of a modern state."

The Bank has worked with the Afghan Government to develop a number of national programs and these have been used as vehicles to mobilize international assistance and to deliver results.

"These projects have been reviewed and have shown very high returns," McKechnie said. "For instance, we have worked through the National Solidarity Program to provide basic infrastructure at the community level. Many rural villages have improved roads, access to drinking water, built new schools, and some have even produced their own electricity system."

The National Solidarity Program has reached about 13 million rural people since its start in 2002. More than 9,000 community development committees have received block grants to fund about 17,000 subprojects in water supply and sanitation, irrigation, rural energy, livelihoods, and transport infrastructure at the village level.

The Afghanistan Development Forum is an annual gathering of international donors and Afghanistan's government representatives. This year, the fourth such meeting, the Afghan Government will present priority strategies and discuss development outcomes and future needs with donor partners.

"There will be a discussion on a number of other difficult topics, particularly the problems of narcotics and corruption," McKechnie said. "We hope that coming out of this meeting there will be a greater consensus and a shared sense of purpose on how to help Afghanistan."