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Afghanistan

Securing a prosperous future for Afghanistan amidst challenges

Christina Wieser's picture
 Rumi Consultancy/ World Bank
According to a recent report, just over half of Afghan children attend primary school and most of them were boys. Photo Credit: Rumi Consultancy/ World Bank


Fueled by unprecedented levels of aid, literacy, school enrollment, and access to basic services, Afghanistan made tremendous progress between 2007–08 and 2011–12. However, declining aid and increasing conflict during the period between 2011–12 and 2013–14 slowed progress, especially on education and maternal health outcomes, as documented by our recent World Bank report, the “Afghanistan Poverty Status Update: Progress at Risk.”

In this blog, we look at how Afghanistan has performed across several important development indicators in the last few years.

Afghanistan’s learning crisis: How bad is it really?

Anahita Hosseini Matin's picture
Anahita Matin/ World Bank
Students at the Abdul Hadi Dawi school getting ready for class. Photo Credit: Anahita Matin/ World Bank

At the heart of Kabul City in Makroyan 3, lies the all-boys ‘Abdul Hadi Dawi’ school. Despite having 3,000 students, there are no latrines, only a remote plot of land dotted with containers for the students to use. The school is also located near the Supreme Court, an area with potential security risks.The Abdul Hadi Dawi School encapsulates many of the problems with the education system in Afghanistan.

There is little evidence of high-quality instruction or learning happening in the classroom. And neither were teachers being assessed on their performance nor the quality of their teaching.

Improving learning is a priority for Afghanistan. Therefore, the government of Afghanistan sought our support to document the reality of primary education in Afghanistan and identify bottlenecks in schools that impede the delivery of high-quality education.

Thirty-two schools participated in our pilot study in Kabul city in April 2017. Our findings break new ground and are based on SABER Service Delivery methodology already tested in the Africa region through the Service Delivery Initiative.

Our survey provides indicators necessary to track progress in student learning and inform education policies to provide high-quality learning environments for both students and teachers. The indicators are standardized, allowing comparisons between and within nations over time.

Horticulture offers hope for growth and jobs in rural Afghanistan

World Bank Afghanistan's picture
Until the late 1960s, Afghanistan was a major exporter of horticulture products, particularly dried fruits. Photo Credit: World Bank

Afghanistan is struggling with unemployment and poor economic performance because of drastic reductions in foreign aid and continued social instability. While efforts have been made to improve the private sector, including several sectors like mining and manufacturing, the gains have been modest as Afghanistan remains beset by conflict and instability.
 
Yet investments in agriculture, particularly horticulture, have produced tangible returns as unique weather conditions are favorable to growing produce that are in-demand in local and regional markets. 

An example can be found in Mullah Durani, a farmer from Mohammad Ali Kas village in Qarghaee district in eastern Laghman Province, who converted his field to growing grapes for fruit consumption in 2015 that is paying off in creating jobs and boosting income. “My land has generated eight times higher returns, while I can use the local workforce on my own farm instead of sending them to cities to work for others,” says Mullah Durani. “I have also been able to create seasonal jobs for a number of villagers during harvesting.”
 
The key to his success, he says, was choosing the right variety of grapes instead of grains. “My recently established vineyard produces grapes at a time when there are almost no domestic fruits in the market and in return, I get higher market prices,” he points out. “This year I sold about $4,000 worth of grapes from 2,000 square meters of land.”
 
By converting his field to growing grapes, Mullah Durani received investment support and technical assistance from the Afghanistan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock under its National Horticulture and Livestock Project (NHLP). The project is funded by the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) and helps farmers in selected districts adopt better production practices.

Fresh thinking on economic cooperation in South Asia

Nikita Singla's picture
 Aamir Khan/ Pakistan, Sreerupa Sengupta/ India, Sanjay Kathuria/ World Bank, Mahfuz Kabir & Surendar Singh/ Bangladesh) Photo By: Marcio De La Cruz/ World Bank
Young Economists sharing the stage with Sanjay Kathuria, Lead Economist and Coordinator, Regional Integration (Left to Right: Aamir Khan/ Pakistan, Sreerupa Sengupta/ India, Sanjay Kathuria/ World Bank, Mahfuz Kabir/Bangladesh & Surendar Singh/ India). Photo by: Marcio De La Cruz/ World Bank


That regional cooperation in South Asia is lower than optimal levels is well accepted. It is usually ascribed to – the asymmetry in size between India and the rest, conflicts and historical political tensions, a trust deficit, limited transport connectivity, and onerous logistics, among many other factors.

Deepening regional integration requires sufficient policy-relevant analytical work on the costs and benefits of both intra-regional trade and investment. An effective cross-border network of young professionals can contribute to fresh thinking on emerging economic cooperation issues in South Asia.

Against this background, the World Bank Group sponsored a competitive request for proposals.  Awardees from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, after being actively mentored by seasoned World Bank staff over a period of two years, convened in Washington DC to present their new and exciting research. Research areas included regional value chains, production sharing and the impact assessment of alternative preferential trade agreements in the region.

Young Economists offer fresh thoughts on economic cooperation in South Asia

Mahfuz Kabir, Acting Research Director, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies and Surendar Singh, Policy Analyst, Consumer Unity Trust Society (CUTS International) presented their research: Of Streams and Tides, India-Bangladesh Value Chains in Textiles and Clothing (T&C). They focus on how to tackle three main trade barriers for T&C: a) high tariffs for selected, but important goods for the industries of both countries; b) inefficient customs procedures and c) divergent criteria for rules of origin classification.

Sreerupa Sengupta, Ph.D. Scholar at Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi discussed Trade Cooperation and Production Sharing in South Asia – An Indian Perspective. Reviewing the pattern of Indian exports and imports in the last twenty years, her research focuses on comparing the Global Value Chain (GVC) participation rate of India with East Asian and ASEAN economies. Barriers to higher participation include a) lack of openness in the FDI sector; b) lack of adequate port infrastructure, and long port dwell times; and c) lack of Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs).

Aamir Khan, Assistant Professor, Department of Management Sciences, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad presented his work on Economy Wide Impact of Regional Integration in South Asia - Options for Pakistan. His research analyzes the reasons for Pakistan not being able to take full advantage of its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China, and finds that the granting of ASEAN-type concessions to Pakistan in its FTA with China would be more beneficial than the current FTA arrangement. The work also draws lessons for FTAs that are currently being negotiated by South Asian countries.

Education is the way forward for Afghanistan

Mohammad Homayoon Rahmani's picture
The Education Quality Improvement Program provides block grant support to the construction of school buildings and other facilities such as laboratories, libraries and computer labs. This improved studying environment has encouraged almost all families to send their children to schools in many districts of Balkh province. Photo Credit: Fardin Waezi/ World Bank


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 forgotten dimension of the SDG indicators – Social Capital

Jos Verbeek's picture

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. 

Can small grants, training, and mentorship for micro-entrepreneurs create jobs in Afghanistan?

Pratap Sinha's picture
The NATEJA project supports entrepreneurs like Nooria to start new business. "With support from NATEJA, we were able to purchase the required equipment and
raw material to weave the carpets ourselves," said Nooria. Photo Credit: Rumi Consultancy/ World Bank


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.

Providing better healthcare in Afghanistan – A view from the field

Fahimuddin Fahim's picture


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.

Collecting primary data in Afghanistan: Daunting but doable

Tommaso Rooms's picture

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.

Climate in Crisis: How Risk Information Can Build Resilience in Afghanistan

Julian Palma's picture
Photo Credit: Rumi Consultancy/ World Bank
Afghanistan is vulnerable to a number of natural hazards, including earthquakes, flooding, drought, landslides and avalanches, as well as hazards arising from human interaction. Among low income countries, Afghanistan is second only to Haiti in terms of the number of fatalities caused by natural disasters between 1980 and 2015. In the last few years, however, the Afghan Government has increasingly understood how the consequences of extreme weather events and disasters add to existing security risks. Severe and prolonged droughts, for instance, have increased food insecurity, causing on average $280 million in economic damage to agriculture each year. Natural disasters and climate-related shocks affect 59 percent of the population, concentrated in economically poorer regions, as opposed to security-related shocks (15 percent).[1]
 
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.[2] 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[3], 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

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