Two hours outside of Kabul on the road to the beautiful province of Bamiyan, where the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas once stood, villagers from Parwan province are working hard to rehabilitate the road linking Bamiyan to the capital.
The busy gravel road is so worn down that in many places it is difficult for vehicles to pass. This is why the Government of Afghanistan has included the road in its National Emergency Rural Access Project (NERAP) under its nationwide National Rural Access Programme (NRAP).
Stretching some 141 km, this link provides an important alternative route to the Salang pass when moving between Kabul and the north of Afghanistan. Throughout much of the winter the pass is blocked by heavy snowfall, cutting off a vital trading route and increasing travel time and costs for the population.
According to UNOPS regional engineer for the Kabul region, Sayed Khan Ahmadzai, the rehabilitation will cut the travel time from Bamyan to the capital in half, significantly reducing the cost of travel.
His views were readily supported by road users. “The road is very bad and it takes me a long time to get to Kabul’, said one driver who pulled over with a truck full of coal from the coal mines along the way to Bamyan. ‘I look forward to getting back and forth much quicker’, he added.
The rehabilitation of the road offers much more than just smoother communications. Using labour-based methods of construction the programme provides work and livelihoods, supporting the local economy and teaching new skills. It is also helping to build links between the different ethnic communities in Afghanistan.
Since June 2002, the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development and the Ministry of Public Works have jointly implemented NRAP, previously known as NEEP (National Emergency Employment Programme), with implementation support provided by UNOPS.
The programme has been supported by multiple donors, including the World Bank, UK Department for International Development, US Agency for International Development, the European Commission, Swedish International Development Agency, Canadian International Development Agency, and the governments of Japan, Australia and Spain.
With funding of USD 112 million managed by the World Bank through its IDA Trust Fund, the current three-year phase of the project aims to improve an additional 2,000 km of secondary and tertiary roads nationwide and build the capacity of the line ministries to further expand management and works delivery. In addition, the World Bank administered Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) has recently contributed USD 30 million as complementary resources to the NERAP project.
The programme, which has already seen a total of 9,632 km of roads constructed or rehabilitated, connects rural Afghanistan in all 34 provinces enhancing year-round access to basic services, especially in rural Afghanistan. The program has also constructed or rehabilitated 66 bridges, 14 airfields and tens of thousands of meters of related drainage structures, such as culverts and protection walls.
This work has generated 12.4 million labour days through its focus on labour-based construction methods. Moreover it has helped create the conditions for longer-term employment with the construction essential community infrastructure, including irrigation schemes, water and sanitation facilities, and schools and clinics.
Capacity development and community participation are at the centre of the programme. Capacity development activities are designed to increase the Government’s ownership of the project, while community participation helps ensure compliance with environmental and social management standards and generate employment in rural areas.
In Parwan, Ministry of Public Works’ Regional Engineer Mr. Nadershah believes that the improved connectivity will increase the interaction between different ethnicities. “The road to Bamyan will connect the Pashtoon in the Shinwari district with the Tajik in the Ghorband (Syagird) district, the Hazara in the Shiakh Ali and Sorkh-e-Parsa districts, and the Turkman in the Dara-e-Turkmen valley of Sorkh-e-Parsa district’.
In a country with a history of civil conflict, increased inter-ethnic social and economic interaction is seen as helping create a more lasting peace.