Someone wise once said that education is the foundation of a country’s progress. As every Afghan knows and feels, after four decades of conflict and violence, progress is exactly what this country needs to get back on its feet.
I have always had a deep interest in making my social context better and this is the reason why I joined the Education Quality Improvement Program (EQUIP), which aims to improve access and quality of education for Afghans. I joined the EQUIP team in the program’s second phase, which started in January 2008.
Through EQUIP, we have been working with communities to change their views and perceptions on education, especially in villages. I remember when I joined the team in 2010, many people would come and tell us they did not want to send their girls to school. But slowly EQUIP won them over.
Now, we can proudly say that we have the full support of communities everywhere in Balkh Province. For example, we have never had to buy land to construct a school in any district in Balkh. Every single time, it has been the people who bought or donated land and invited us to construct the building, even in the poorest regions.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development rightfully points out that sustainability has three dimensions: economic, environmental, and social. The first two are well understood and well measured.
Economic sustainability has a whole strand of literature and the World Bank and IMF devote a lot of attention to debt and fiscal sustainability in their reports. Just open any Article 4 consultation or any public expenditure review and you will find some form of fiscal or debt sustainability analysis.
The same can be said about environmental sustainability. Since Cancun (COP16), countries prepare National Adaptation Plans, and since COP 21, they have prepared Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which focus on domestic mitigation measures to address climate change.
As the world marks International Youth Day on August 12, many in Afghanistan, especially the youth, strive to find better ways to make a prosperous future for themselves. According to the United Nations Population Fund, about 63 percent of Afghans are under 25 years of age, reflecting a steep pyramid age structure whereby a large cohort of young people is slowly emerging. Yet, young people in Afghanistan face significant challenges in health, education, employment, and gender inequality.
To tackle these challenges, the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled is targeting youth with low education in rural and semi-urban areas through a pilot micro-grants scheme to support aspiring entrepreneurs in the face of low growth and dim job creation prospects in the private sector. The scheme is implemented under the Non-Formal Approach to Training, Education, and Jobs in Afghanistan (NATEJA) project financed by the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF).
When I saw Fariha, 23, during her selection interview for the micro-grant scheme, she was sceptical of receiving any government support, but confident about her beauty salon idea. It was a dream come true when she got the news of the micro-grant of $500. Fariha had learnt her skills first as a trainee at a beauty salon. After four years working there, she used the grant money to invest in the business and is now a partner and manager in the salon. “I did not earn enough as a trainee, but now I am a partner. It is a good job and it is getting better,” she says.
As a NATEJA grantee, Fariha attended a business training course to learn basic accounting, marketing, and key tips to start a business as a woman. She was also very happy to receive a pictorial, practical, and illustrative business start-up booklet at the training, given her low level of education.
Although I have extensive project management experience in Daykundi Province, the scale and impact of the System Enhancement for Health Action in Transition (SEHAT) Program is truly inspiring—for example, the 39 centers that deliver the Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS) together serve over 77,000 outpatients per month. In October 2016, these centers managed the delivery of 615 babies, with as many as 69 deliveries in Temran Basic Health Center alone.
In fact, when it comes to female health, SEHAT has ensured that there is at least one female staff member in every health center. This has partly been possible because of the successful implementation of community-level education programs, such as the Community Midwifery Education (CME) and Community Health Nursing Education (CHNE). The program has also strengthened community-based health care by setting up health Shuras (councils) in all locations covered by SEHAT and implemented specific controls on qualifications and credentials of health workers.
SEHAT is a program of the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), supported by the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank Group’s fund for the poorest countries, and the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), in partnership with multiple donors. An NGO, PU-AMI, was contracted by MoPH between 2013 and June 2017 to deliver BPHS in Daykundi, in line with national health goals outlined by the ministry. These goals include reducing mother and child deaths and improving child health and nutrition. Thus, the program focuses on increasing access, building capacity, strengthening coordination, promoting use of monitoring and evaluation data, and enabling better support for pharmaceutical supplies.
Afghanistan is not exactly an easy place to undertake a rigorous study on the ease of doing business. And collecting primary data for a micro-based study in Kabul and several Afghan provinces can be a daunting task. Just how daunting is underscored by the fact that the country conducted its most recent census almost 40 years ago, in 1979. Vast tracts of the country remain unsafe and many of its provinces are inaccessible.
Despite the security challenges, our experience from the recently launched Subnational Doing Business in Afghanistan report shows that the barriers to collecting micro data are not insurmountable. The data and related findings can help guide business reforms toward the kind of smart regulations that are imperative for attracting private sector investment to the capital city and beyond. A regulatory environment that enables private enterprise, especially small and medium firms, to function and be creative boosts job creation and is, therefore, good for the economy.
The report, the first of its kind in Afghanistan, benchmarks Kabul and the provinces of Balkh, Herat, Kandahar and Nangarhar across four Doing Business indicators: Starting a Business, Dealing with Construction Permits, Getting Electricity and Registering Property.
The key takeways?
Kabul leads in two of the areas measured, Starting a Business and Getting Electricity. Kandahar ranks first in Dealing with Construction Permits and Registering Property, while Balkh comes in second in all four areas measured by the report.
Regulatory quality and efficiency vary considerably among the five locations. Rolling out reforms already implemented in Kabul across all of Afghanistan would improve the business environment for entrepreneurs in the provinces.
- By adopting all the good practices, Afghanistan could move up 11 places in the global Doing Business ranking, to 172.
- South Asia
- Middle East and North Africa
- Law and Regulation
- Private Sector Development
- Conflict and Fragility; fragile and conflict affected states; fragile states; fragility; FCV; Afghanistan; doing business; ease of doing business; private enterprise; entrepreneurship; business regulations;
The availability of disaster risk information is particularly important for a fragile state like Afghanistan where 4 out of 5 people rely on natural resources for their livelihoods. To strengthen resilience, investments in Afghanistan need to incorporate information on natural hazards in their planning, design and implementation. To help support government efforts, the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), in close cooperation with the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA), recently produced a comprehensive multi-hazard assessment level and risk profile, documenting information on current and future risk from fluvial and flash floods, droughts, landslides, snow avalanches and seismic hazards. The main findings, methodology and expected outcomes were recently discussed and presented to the Disaster Risk Management community of practice within the World Bank Group. A number of takeaways from the discussion are presented below:
What is Afghanistan’s risk profile and vulnerability?
- Flooding is the most frequent natural hazard historically, causing average annual damage estimated at $54 million; large flood episodes can cause over $500 million in damage
- Historically, earthquakes have caused the most fatalities, killing more than 10,000 people since 1980
- 3 million people are at risk from very high or high landslide hazard
- Droughts have affected 6.5 million people since 2000; an extreme drought could cause an estimated $3 billion in agricultural losses, and lead to severe food shortages across the country;
- An estimated 10,000 km of roads (15 percent of all roads) are exposed to avalanches, including key transport routes like the Salang Pass
Last week on World Population Day, I was thinking of the joy of children and the right of women to decide when to have them. It matters to women, but it matters to society as a whole. There can be no sustainable development without women’s empowerment, and there can be no women’s empowerment without access to comprehensive maternal and reproductive health services. Family planning is part of them.
Not so long ago, 15 years to be exact, I remember when people in the districts of Kandahar used animals to transport their agricultural harvest to the provincial center. There were a few, if any, motorable roads, and we had a limited number of health centers and schools in the province. Most of the infrastructure laid in ruins. But worst of all, the economic condition of the average Afghan was quite bad with little or no access to income, opportunities, and facilities.
Things have changed since 2003. While many development projects have been implemented in Kandahar Province, the National Solidarity Programme (NSP) has been one of the most popular and high impact. Running from 2003 to 2016, NSP was implemented in 16 of 17 districts and set up 1,952 Community Development Councils (CDCs), which implemented over 3,300 projects.
In Kandahar, communities are very conservative, and, overall, the province is highly traditional. When the program was launched, people in Kandahar were not interested in establishing CDCs through holding elections at the village level.
, many from Pakistan and Iran. In 2016 alone, the country welcomed 600,000 returnees. UNHCR predicts another 500,000 to 700,000 returnees by the end of 2017.
On top of that, In a country of over 30 million people, there is an estimated 1-2 million of displaced population (UN-OCHA, UNHCR, IOM).
One can only imagine how much pressure the displacement crisis is putting on the cities and communities hosting refugees and returnees—starting with the challenge of providing basic services such as water and housing, let alone jobs and security.
In this video, World Bank Senior Director Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez (@Ede_WBG) and Lead Social Development Specialist Janmejay Singh will unpack the challenge and share —through Citizens’ Charter Afghanistan Project and other World Bank-supported activities.
Unlike many other places, though, cities in Afghanistan face an added, complex layer of challenge—conflict.
Instability in large areas of the country is forcing refugees and internally displaced people into cities—particularly the capital city of Kabul. The thing is: Kabul doesn’t yet have adequate infrastructure and capacity to effectively host these “newcomers.”
What can be done?
To help Afghan cities better address the “3-way challenge” of urbanization, conflict, and forced displacement, the World Bank is working on a series of projects that aim to:
- Provide basic services to selected—mostly informal—neighborhoods in Kabul, such as roads, sanitation, water, and lighting;
- Support Kabul to improve its municipal finance management systems;
- Support the institutional and policy framework for urban development in Afghanistan;
- Strengthen city planning, management and service delivery in five provincial capital cities.
In this video, you will learn more from World Bank Senior Director Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez (@Ede_WBG) and Practice Manager Catalina Marulanda on to better host refugees and other displaced populations.