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Afghanistan

Moving Afghanistan’s Bamyan province forward

Mohammad Tahir Zuhair's picture
View of Bamyan Province, Afghanistan
View of Bamyan city, Bamyan Province. Photo Credit: Rumi Consultancy​/ World Bank

When people think of Afghanistan, what comes to their minds are images of decades of war and insecurity.

True, Afghanistan has suffered a long history of upheaval

But there has been significant progress in rebuilding a strong, independent, and modern nation since 2001.

And in light of our nation’s turbulent history, it is sometimes easy to forget how far Afghanistan has come.

Just two month ago in October, over four million voters cast their ballots in parliamentary elections—with millions more looking forward to voting in the upcoming presidential election in 2019.

Unforgettably, 2018 also brought the unprecedented three-day ceasefire during Eid, a rare glimpse of complete peace that continues to give hope to many of us.

As Governor of Bamyan Province, one of my goals is to present a different image of my country to the world—one of progress and possibility in the face of adversity.

Many people have never heard of Bamyan. Neither do they know its longstanding and well-deserved reputation as one of Afghanistan’ safest provinces.

Our residents take pride in the fact that we haven’t experienced chaos, war, or insurgency against the government in 17 years.

And as Governor, I have witnessed the importance residents put on civil society, which has been vital to implementing successful development projects in the province.

Act now for a brighter future for the Afghan people

Hartwig Schafer's picture
Today, over 8.5 million students attend school–over 40% of them girls
Photo Credit: Rumi Consultancy/ World Bank

In 2001, only one million Afghan children attended school–none of them girls. Today, over 8.5 million students attend school–over 40% of them girls.

Amina, a 9th grade student, is one of over 3 million girls that now attend school through the contributions of the Afghan people and support from the international community.

"I have seen many improvements at my school. We are learning more now through better teaching methods and materials,” she said. Amina is one of the millions of Afghans whose lives have improved and has great hopes for the future.

As the first country that I visited after becoming the World Bank’s Vice President for the South Asia Region in July 2018, Afghanistan impressed me with its resilient people and achievements in spite of challenges, notably in education, health, and infrastructure.

The country has immense potential. Located in the center of a fast-growing region blessed with a young population and abundant natural resources, Afghanistan can achieve rapid growth and huge improvements in living standards through sound planning and tight implementation.

Making higher education accessible to Afghan women

Muzhgan Aslami's picture
Afghan students attending their class in Kabul University
Students attending class at Kabul Medical University. Photo Credit: Rumi Consultancy/ World Bank

As a women’s rights activist who has dedicated the past six years of her life to empowering women, ensuring that women can access education is crucial to me.
 
This is what motivates me in my work with the Higher Education Development Program (HEDP) at the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE), the principal body responsible for providing and regulating higher education in Afghanistan.  
 
When I joined the MoHE as a Gender Specialist in 2016, I mainly focused on making sure female students did not face the same challenges I personally encountered as a student at Kabul University.

Some of the issues my friends and I remember was traveling long distances to the university, the lack of facilities for female students on campus, and the few opportunities to go abroad for postgraduate studies. Factors which, together, led to low female enrollment rates.

Today, with support from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), many of the challenges I witnessed have been resolved with the initiation of the second National Higher Education Strategic Plan, 2015–2019, under the HEDP.

Afghanistan eases doing business

Shubham Chaudhuri's picture
Doing Business Better in Afghanistan


Despite a volatile business environment, Afghanistan has made gains to improve the ease of doing business in the country.

These gains resulted in Afghanistan’s ranking in Doing Businessa World Bank report that measures business regulations across 190 economies—jumping from 183 in 2018 to 167 in the 2019 report, earning the country a coveted spot in this year’s global top improvers.

This is a first for Afghanistan and the upshot of the record five reforms was to improve the business environment for small and medium companies, increase shareholders’ rights and role in major corporate decisions, and strengthen access to credit.

With more than half of the Afghan population living below the national poverty line, Afghanistan needs to catalyze private investment and create jobs, helping entrepreneurs advance their business initiatives and helping established private businesses, small and large, to grow and create jobs.

There is a great deal of work to do in this regard, but the good news is that Afghanistan is serious about improving its investment climate. An overview of the key reforms Afghanistan has undertaken in the last year shows how the country is easing constraints faced by entrepreneurs and investors:

Commitment to reforms improves business climate in South Asia

Hartwig Schafer's picture
 
Rikweda, an Afghan fruit processing company in the Kabul Province is well on its way to restoring Afghanistan as a raisin exporting powerhouse—a status the country held until the 1970s when it claimed about 20 percent of the global market. Credit World Bank


Imagine a state-of-the-art processing plant that harnesses laser-sorting technology to produce a whopping 15,000 tons of raisins a year, linking up thousands of local farmers to international markets and providing job opportunities to women.
 
To find such a world-class facility, look no further than Rikweda, an Afghan fruit processing company in the Kabul Province that’s well on its way to restoring Afghanistan as a raisin exporting powerhouse—a status the country held until the 1970s when it claimed about 20 percent of the global market.
 
In Afghanistan’s volatile business environment, let alone its deteriorating security, Rikweda’s story is an inspiration for budding entrepreneurs and investors.
 
It also is an illustration of the government’s reform efforts to create more opportunities for Afghan businesses to open and grow, which were reflected in the country’s record advancement in the Doing Business 2019 index, launched today by the World Bank.
 
Despite the increasing conflicts and growing fragility, and thanks to a record five reforms that have moved Afghanistan up to the rank of 167th from 183rd last year, the country became a top improver for the first time in the report’s history.
 
And Afghanistan is not the only South Asian country this year that took a prominent place among top 10 improvers globally.
 
India – which holds the title for the second consecutive year – is a striking example of how persistence pays off, and the high-level ownership and championship of reforms are critical for success. Its ranking has improved by 23 places this year and puts India ahead of all other countries in South Asia. This year, India is ranked 77th, up from 100th last year. 

Five takeaways for better nutrition in South Asia—and beyond

Felipe F. Dizon's picture
In many developing countries, governments and health authorities face the dilemma of how to feed their growing population while ensuring their food is nutritious. Credit: World Bank

Together with more than 1,500 academics, scientists, and policymakers, we participated last week in the Rice Olympics.
 
The event—formally known as the International Rice Congress (IRC)—provides a unique window on the latest innovations and policies about the globe’s most important staple crop.
 
For many, rice may not seem worth the cost of a conference trip. Yet, half of the world’s population depend on it as their main supply of nutrients and energy.  
 
Rice isn’t just a crop,” said Rajan Garjaria, Executive Vice President for Business Platforms at Corteva Agriscience. “It’s a way of life. A place can be made or broken, based on their rice crop.
 
The Congress discussed a breadth of topics, but what stood out the most is that rice can be instrumental in making people healthier and in sustaining the planet.
 
The South Asia Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (SAFANSI), a World Bank partnership that aims to improve food and nutrition security across the region, participated in the Symposium on Sustainable Food Systems and Diets and presented its latest research on linkages among food prices, diet quality, and nutrition security.  
 
Overall, the event underscored how governments and health authorities in many developing countries face the dilemma of how to feed their growing population while ensuring their food is nutritious and discussed relevant strategies to transform nutrition security challenges into opportunities.

Afghanistan: Learning from a decade of progress and loss

Shubham Chaudhuri's picture
Afghanistan: Learning from a decade of progress and loss


In Afghanistan, the past decade saw remarkable progress, as well as reversals and lost opportunities.

The overall macroeconomic and security context in Afghanistan since 2007 can be broken into two distinct phases, pre- and post- the 2014 security transition, when international troops handed over security responsibilities to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
 
The pre-transition phase was marked by higher economic growth (GDP per capita grew 63 percent relative to its 2007 value) and a relatively stable security situation.

Since 2014, growth has stagnated, falling below rates of population growth, and the security situation continues to deteriorate. With the withdrawal of most international troops and the steady decline in aid (both security and civilian aid) since 2012, the economy witnessed an enormous shock to demand, from which it is still struggling to recover.

Similarly, welfare can be characterized into two distinct phases.

Finishing the job of ending poverty in South Asia

Hartwig Schafer's picture
This Bangladeshi woman was born in poverty. With the right kind of education, life in poverty quickly became a story from the past for her. Credit: World Bank

"I have a four-year-old son back in my village. I want to make a better life for him,” says Sharmin Akhtar, a 19-year-old employee in one of Dhaka’s many flourishing garment factories.

Like thousands of other poor women, Sharmin came down to Bangladesh’s capital from her village in the country’s north to seek a better job and create a more prosperous future for her family—leaving behind a life of crushing poverty.

Today, as we mark End Poverty Day 2018, it’s important to note that Sharmin’s heartening story is one of many in Bangladesh and the rest of South Asia, where economic growth has spurred a dramatic decline in extreme poverty in the last 25 years.

And the numbers are striking: In South Asia, the number of extreme poor living on less than $1.90 a day dropped to 216 million people in 2015 from 275 million in 2013 and 536 million in 1990.

Even more remarkable, South Asian countries experienced an increase in incomes among the poorest 40 percent of 2.6 percent a year between 2010-2015, faster than the global average of 1.9 percent.

On a global scale, the highest concentration of poor shifted from South Asia to Sub-Saharan Africa in 2012. And India is likely to be overtaken, if it has not already been, by Nigeria as the country with the most people living in extreme poverty.

It’s worth thinking about how far South Asia has come – but remaining clear-eyed about how far we must go to finish the fight against extreme poverty.

Indeed, it is increasingly clear that poverty is more entrenched and harder to root out in certain areas, particularly in rural areas and in countries burdened by violent conflict and weak institutions.

Estimates for 2015 indicate that India, with 176 million poor people, continued to have the highest number of people in poverty and accounted for nearly a quarter of the global poor.

True, the extreme poverty rate is significantly lower in India relative to the average rate in Sub-Saharan Africa. But because of its large population, India’s total number of poor is still large.

And while there has been a substantial decline in the numbers and rate of people living below $1.90 in South Asia, the number of people living on less than $3.20 has declined by only 8 percent over 1990-2015 because of the growing population.

In 2015, 49 percent of the population of South Asia were living on less than $3.20 a day, and 80 percent were living on less than $5.50 a day.

Afghanistan’s prosperity rests on investing in its people

Shubham Chaudhuri's picture
Afghanistan’s prosperity rests on investing in its people
Primary school students are attending their class in northern Balkh Province. Photo credit: Rumi Consultancy/ World Bank

Today, the World Bank Group released the first Human Capital Index (HCI), a new global indicator to measure the extent to which human capital in each country measures up to its full potential.
 
The HCI is part of the World Bank Group’s Human Capital Project intended to raise awareness about the critical role human capital plays in a country’s long-term growth and to galvanize the country’s will and resources to accelerate investments in its people as its most important asset.
 
Afghanistan’s overall HCI indicates it fulfills only 39 percent of its full potential, conceptualized as 14 years of quality education and survival until age 60
 
As dire as this may sound, the overall HCI score places Afghanistan just around a place where it is expected given its income level—in fact, slightly higher than an average low-income country.

How are displaced Afghans faring?

Christina Wieser's picture
Afghans represent the world’s largest protracted refugee population
Afghan returnee families are arriving at a UNHCR registration office in Kabul. Photo Credit: Rumi Consultancy/ World Bank

Afghans represent the world’s largest protracted refugee population, and one of the largest to be repatriated to their country of origin in this century.

More than seven million refugees returned to Afghanistan between 2002 and 2017, mainly from Iran and Pakistan.
 
Afghan returnees now make up as much as one-fifth of the country’s estimated population.
 
At the same time, conflict-induced population displacement within Afghanistan has sharply increased due to the escalation of insecurity across the country. 
 
In an already difficult context, large-scale internal displacement and returnees from abroad have strained the delivery of public services and increased competition for scarce economic opportunities for both the displaced and the rest of the population.
 
Afghans are living under difficult economic conditions. More than half of all Afghans lived below the national poverty line in 2016-17, and many more are vulnerable to falling into poverty.

To support struggling communities through scarce humanitarian and development assistance is challenging but necessary.
 
But policymakers struggle with many questions.


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