The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)

Roads to better education, health and economy in northern Afghanistan

More girls are enrolled in school, women are more likely to use contraception and it takes less time for a doctor to make a house call in Afghan communities where Sweden and UNOPS have built roads, an independent study has found.

The findings show that the Rural Access Improvement Project, funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and implemented by UNOPS in northern Afghanistan, has had a positive impact on the economic, health and education status of those living in the project area. 
The results were presented at the Ministry of Public Works in Kabul this month in the presence of about 40 government officials, donors and other development practitioners. 

Since late 2007, UNOPS and Sida have been working closely with the Government of Afghanistan to construct and rehabilitate roads connecting remote communities to essential services and markets in the provinces of Balkh, Jawzjan, Samangan and Sari Pul.

To measure the project’s achievements over the past eight years, Sida commissioned an impact study, which found that teachers and students attended school more regularly and 45 percent of girls were enrolled in the project area, compared with 35 percent of girls in non-project communities.

Access to health services was also better, including women’s access to preventive medical care such as pre-natal services and mother-child nutrition advice, with those in the project area paying three-times less to travel to the nearest basic health centre.

Not only were the facilities considered more accessible, there was a general perception among respondents that the journey was safer, meaning it was easier for women and girls to travel. In the project area, 48 percent of respondents thought women should be allowed to travel without a male chaperone compared with 39 percent in the control group.

“On bad roads there aren’t many cars, so if the women or girls are harassed along the way, there’s no one to witness it. But when the roads are good, there are many cars around, which gives a greater sense of security,” said Anne Jasim-Fahler, a member of the study team.

Household income was more diversified in the project communities and increased mobility encouraged greater engagement in job seeking, buying and selling produce and social activities. For example, 26 percent of the project's beneficiaries participated in a civil society group against 14 percent in the comparison communities.

“These results are evidence of the strong collaboration between Sida, UNOPS and the Government of Afghanistan in creating better connectivity for rural communities,” said Marianne von Malmborg, Sida’s Programme Manager for Afghanistan.

“We hope to build on these efforts and lessons learnt in order to further enhance our contribution to Afghans living in extreme conditions of poverty and insecurity,” added Mikko Lainejoki, UNOPS Director in Afghanistan.

The study comprised of 1,596 household surveys, 16 focus group discussions, 32 case studies, 181 origin-destination surveys, 40 transport surveys and 40 traffic density and composition surveys in the four provinces.

In the absence of baseline data, non-project communities with similar demographic, socioeconomic and cultural attributes were selected as a control group so that accurate comparisons could be made against the project communities.

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