The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)

Building roads in a hostile environment

Insurgent groups and instability: managing a construction project in Afghanistan has far greater challenges than delivering on time, to budget and to quality standards.

But through stringent project controls and community engagement, UNOPS has been successfully improving rural roads in northern Afghanistan since late 2007, with funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

To maximize benefits to the local economy, expand private sector capacity and create jobs for communities in the project area, UNOPS uses local construction companies.

Abdul Wahid Sakhayee, the president of one of these private contractors, said insecurity was the biggest problem for project implementation, especially when the roads are located in insurgent strongholds.

"In Samangan Province, work stopped because insurgents started gathering wood and other fuel to set our machinery on fire," he said.

In another example from 2015, Mr. Sakhayee's team was managing the periodic maintenance of a road in a part of Sari Pul Province that was 80 percent under insurgent control.

The poor security situation was causing delays, so the contractor had to convince the local community of the importance of the road – which serves as the only route to the area's main water supply – while highlighting the project's potential for job opportunities.


  • ​Abdul Wahid Sakhayee, contratista, mantiene una conversación con Wahidullah Mohebi, ingeniero de UNOPS, sobre los desafíos para la seguridad que supone trabajar en el Proyecto de mejora del acceso a las zonas rurales en Afganistán. © UNOPS/Elise Beacom

After some persuasion, the community was able to convince the insurgents that the road improvement would benefit everyone,

- Abdul Wahid Sakhayee

"After some persuasion, the community was able to convince the insurgents that the road improvement would benefit everyone," said Mr. Sakhayee.

And the evidence is clear; more than 1 million days of employment have been created for local communities in northern Afghanistan since the Sida-funded project began eight years ago, providing an important source of income for some of the country's most disadvantaged.

Mr. Sakhayee said that other challenges to road construction and maintenance included community protests, and access to materials such as stone and a reliable water supply – in some cases the contractor had to truck in water from faraway.

Finding skilled local labour is another issue, which Mr. Sakhayee addresses by hiring about two-thirds of his skilled labourers from the local community and outsourcing the remaining third to build local capacity and ensure quality.

To strengthen these quality standards, UNOPS engineers and project staff regularly visit the sites to ensure the works are satisfactory, while the site supervisor and labourers send photos on a daily basis as proof of progress.

UNOPS has additionally increased the capacity of local contractors through specialized capacity building workshops, which include guidance on submitting bids for works.

The Rural Access Improvement Project aims to reduce poverty and rural-urban disparities by creating better access to essential services and markets in four northern provinces of Afghanistan.

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