Get to Know the ARTF with These 4 Important Questions

The Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) is one of the most important funding entities supporting the ongoing rebuilding and development process in Afghanistan. Learn more about this critical organization with the following four frequently asked questions:


  1. What is the ARTF?

ARTFlogoEstablished in 2002, the ARTF is a multidonor trust fund that is managed by the World Bank and currently supported by 34 international donors. Since 2016, these donors have contributed more than US$9 billion for reconstruction projects and service delivery programs all across Afghanistan. The ARTF is the most important multidonor mechanism for nonsecurity, on-budget support in Afghanistan, and it is by far the preferred vehicle for pooled international funding. Its centrally administered structure allows for the well-coordinated and coherent channeling of funds, provides the Government of Afghanistan with funding predictability, and offers excellent transparency and high accountability for its donors, along with low overhead and transaction costs.



  1. How is the ARTF managed and governed?

There are three tiers of governance within the ARTF. Combined with three additional working groups, this management framework is both sound and flexible, allowing the ARTF to quickly and consistently adapt to changing circumstances and development priorities. The three-tiered governance framework includes the following entities:

The ARTF Steering Committee—This committee sets the strategic direction for the ARTF at quarterly meetings chaired by the World Bank and the Afghan Minister of Finance. Members of the committee are all either ARTF donors or representatives from the World Bank and the Afghan Ministry of Finance. To ensure transparency, the Steering Committee publicly posts full notes of its meetings on the ARTF website.

The ARTF Management Committee—The Management Committee is responsible for implementing the vision and direction set by the Steering Committee. This includes reviewing and approving funding proposals, reviewing ARTF finances, and making recommendations on ARTF management. Members of the Management Committee include the Afghan Ministry of Finance, the Islamic Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the United Nations Development Program, and the World Bank, with the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan taking part as an observer.

The ARTF Administrator—The World Bank serves as the Administrator for the ARTF. As such, it is responsible for monitoring and reporting on all aspects of ARTF performance. In particular, the World Bank ensures that the allocation of funds takes place in accordance with the Financing Strategy set and agreed upon by donors and the Government of Afghanistan, and in line with established fiduciary standards and performance measures.

The working groups that support the three tiers of governance are the Incentive Program Working Group, a donor group that works to set policy benchmarks for the ARTF with the Government of Afghanistan; the Strategy Group, which reviews the Financing Strategy and its implementation; and the Gender Working Group.


  1. How is the ARTF aligned with government priorities?

Working and collaborating closely with the Government of Afghanistan is a key priority for the ARTF; likewise, the government’s relationship with the ARTF is one of its most valued partnerships. Unlike some donor agencies that never give local governments the opportunity to work with funding directly, the ARTF channels all funds through government systems, and all projects are implemented by ministries and government agencies.

Naturally, such a close relationship means that ARTF’s work is closely aligned with the Afghanistan National Development Strategy outlined by the government. In 2010, the government established 22 National Priority Programs (NPPs) and reached an agreement with the ARTF that a minimum of 80% of donor assistance would go towards supporting these priorities. This has proved to be the most effective way for the international community to support Afghanistan’s own development goals. To date, the ARTF has been an instrumental player in many of Afghanistan’s biggest development achievements.

Beyond questions of funding, the ARTF is also a helpful resource for the Government of Afghanistan in that it provides the government with an important platform for dialogue around key policy reforms.



  1. How are ARTF funds allocated?

There are two different “windows” through which ARTF funds are allocated. The first is the Recurrent Cost window: under this funding avenue, the government receives an annual reimbursement for a predetermined portion of eligible and non-security-related operating expenditure. This recurrent cost funding is an important element of Afghanistan’s fiscal sustainability; while the government is progressively improving its own revenue base through activities like customs and taxation, it is not yet able to fully support its recurrent expenditures with domestic revenues alone. ARTF Recurrent Cost window funding helps provide consistency and stability as the government works to improve its own revenue collection processes. To date, nearly 75% of recurrent costs have fallen into the category of payroll expenses, including wages for teachers and health workers.

The second ARTF funding window is the Investment window: this funding avenue provides grant-based financing for investments that support the National Priority Programs described earlier.

A Look at the 4 Afghan Sites on the World Heritage “Tentative List”

In addition to its two properties that are officially inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List—the archaeological remains of the Bamiyan Valley and the Minaret of Jam—Afghanistan boasts a further four sites that are currently candidates for World Heritage status. At present, these sites are included on Afghanistan’s “Tentative List,” which is an inventory of properties that are under consideration for inclusion on the World Heritage List. Read on to learn more about what the Tentative List is and which Afghan sites are on it.


What is the Tentative List?

UNESCOlogoThe selection and official designation of World Heritage Sites, which represent the most outstanding examples of natural and cultural heritage from all around the globe, follows a detailed set of formal procedures. Of these, the submission of the Tentative List is a very important step: it is essentially an opportunity for countries to introduce UNESCO to sites and properties they believe are deserving of World Heritage status.

To prepare a Tentative List, each country—working in collaboration with key stakeholders, including site managers, local communities, local and regional governments, and non-governmental organizations—identifies and compiles details about the sites or properties it is nominating, including their name, their location, and their qualities, and offers justification as to their exceptional universal value. The nations then submit their Tentative List to UNESCO’s World Heritage Center to be evaluated by the World Heritage Committee. If a nominated site meets the specific criteria for inclusion on the World Heritage List, the Committee inscribes the site on the list.

Note that the only entity allowed to place a site on a Tentative List is the country in which it is located. Further, only countries that are signatories to the World Heritage Convention can submit Tentative Lists (as of 2016, 193 countries had ratified the Convention). Tentative Lists are not considered to be fixed or exhaustive: indeed, the World Heritage Committee encourages countries to reevaluate and resubmit their Tentative Lists every few years. This is important as the Committee cannot consider sites for World Heritage status unless they have first been included on a Tentative List.


What sites has Afghanistan included on its Tentative List?

Afghanistan currently has the following four sites (three natural ones and one cultural one) on its Tentative List:


The city of Herat (nominated in 2004)—The regional capital of Western Afghanistan, Herat was once one of the most impressive cities in ancient Afghanistan and a center of great strategic, commercial, and cultural significance. Originally established around 500 BCE, Herat has survived several waves of destruction over the centuries. Today, the city is home to an exceptional collection of architecture and monuments that stand as a testament to its rich history. Most famous for the medieval Islamic buildings, including the extraordinary Great Mosque complex, that fill its historic center, Herat is also the site of some of Afghanistan’s oldest structural remains, including the ruins of a fort built in 330 BCE, after Alexander the Great captured the city.


The city of Balkh (nominated in 2004)—It’s hardly surprising to find Balkh on Afghanistan’s Tentative List, as many consider it to be one of the oldest cities in the world. Once a rival to the spectacular city of Babylon, Balkh, like Herat, suffered several periods of destruction and rebuilding under different dynasties. Contemporary visitors to Balkh can spot the layers of its history in the monuments that have fully or partially survived, like the traces of the earthen walls that surrounded the city in the 10th century CE or the remains of the Madjide Haji Pivada, one of the world’s oldest mosques. Balkh is also the reputed birthplace for some of the ancient Islamic world’s most notable figures, including the Sufi poet Rumi and the prophet Zoroaster.


Band-e-Amir (nominated in 2004)—Band-e-Amir is the only property on Afghanistan’s tentative list that is a natural wonder rather than a cultural one; and indeed, “wonder” is the word that most people use to describe this breathtaking collection of blue and turquoise lakes in the Hindu Kush mountain range. Band-e-Amir is what is known as a “travertine system,” which means that each of its six lakes is separated from the others by natural dams of hardened mineral deposits that built up gradually over time. Band-e-Amir may not be an official World Heritage Site yet, but a major step towards recognizing its value came in 2009, when it earned designation as Afghanistan’s first-ever national park.


Bagh-e Babur (nominated in 2009)—The largest public green space in Kabul, Bagh-e Babur, or Babur’s Gardens, has a history that stretches back more than 500 years. Babur, a descendent of Genghis Khan, created the gardens after he conquered Kabul in 1504. Designed in accordance with the principles of traditional Islamic gardens, Bagh-e Babur is one of the oldest surviving gardens of the Mughal dynasty. The gardens fell into decline following Babur’s death, but an extensive restoration program (launched in 2002 with the help of the Aga Khan Development Network) has beautifully restored the site to its former glory.

Spotlight on the International Rescue Committee in Afghanistan

A global organization dedicated to responding to the world’s most challenging humanitarian crises, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has been helping people rebuild their lives after conflict and natural disaster for more than 80 years. And while the IRC currently operates in more than 30 countries around the globe, it’s in Afghanistan that the organization’s efforts have been the most longstanding.

Read on to learn more about the IRC, its history in Afghanistan, and what the organization has planned for its future efforts in the country.


What is the International Rescue Committee?

IRC logoA non-governmental humanitarian aid, relief, and development organization, the IRC provides both emergency aid and long-term assistance to refugees and others displaced or affected by war, persecution, and natural disaster. By focusing on key areas like health, safety, education, economic well-being, and decision-making power, the IRC works to help the world’s most vulnerable people survive and recover from crises and gain control of their futures.


How long has the IRC been working in Afghanistan?

Within weeks of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the IRC was on the ground helping support the waves of Afghan refugees flooding into neighboring countries. The organization has continued to provide Afghanistan with relief and development assistance ever since. Some key dates and highlights from the IRC’s more than 30 years in Afghanistan include:

1980 – John Whitehead, then the board president of the IRC, journeyed to the makeshift refugee camps springing up just beyond the borders of Afghanistan. The situation he witnessed, in which more than 5 million Afghans had fled their homeland only to encounter terrible living conditions outside it, proved to be the catalyst for the creation of more permanent IRC operations in the country.

1988 – This year saw the official establishment of IRC operations in Afghanistan, although by this time the IRC had already been operating an extensive relief program in Afghan refugee camps for some years. Mobile clinics and dispensary tents, vocational and self-help programs, and comprehensive educational programs were some of the IRC’s most important contributions to improving the lives of Afghans displaced by conflict.

1989 – Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, many aid agencies also left the country. The IRC was one of the few organizations to remain and to continue operating under the new regime. Working with a dedicated team of Afghan national staff members, the IRC helped with significant rebuilding efforts, including making repairs to roads and irrigation systems and establishing public health and sanitation facilities.

Early 2000s – Following yet another regime change at the start of the new millennium, millions of returning refugees and internally displaced Afghans began to make their way back to their homes. During this period, the IRC intensified its efforts to help Afghanistan rebuild and repair critical infrastructure.

2007 – Education has always been an important tool for the IRC to help people affected by crisis to regain control over their lives and build a better future for themselves. In Afghanistan in 2007, for example, the IRC trained more than 1,000 new teachers, and helped roughly 11,000 students enroll in 400 schools. In addition, nearly 2,000 people graduated from IRC-supported vocational programs.


What’s next for the IRC in Afghanistan?

Now that Afghanistan is beginning to establish and sustain modest but important gains, the IRC’s experience and expertise are more critical than ever. In 2017, the IRC published a strategic action plan for Afghanistan, outlining its program priorities through 2020 and detailing the key focus areas and actions that will help Afghanistan move into a new era of stability and prosperity. Particular desired outcomes of this plan include:

Education – Building on its extensive experience in coordinating community-based education for children, the IRC aims to ensure that Afghan children aged 6 to 14 have the opportunity to fully develop their literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional skills. Achieving this goal will involve training more teachers, supplying educational materials to classrooms, and partnering with the Ministry of Education to create an evidence-based assessment program to determine the quality of Afghan education services.

Health – Because inadequate sanitation and water supply access are leading causes of disease, the IRC plans to build safe and accessible water and sanitation facilities in the nine Afghan provinces in which the organization currently operates. Community-oriented hygiene awareness and disease prevention programs will also help curtail the spread of illness.

Economic well-being – All Afghans should have the opportunity to earn an income that is sufficient to meet basic needs, build assets, and save for the future. To this end, the IRC will continue to offer skills-based training and apprenticeship programs that prepare participants for skilled, high-demand jobs in Afghanistan’s new economy.

Power and decision-making – The IRC aims to ensure that Afghan citizens have the knowledge and power to influence the decisions that affect them. Community education programs around critical issues like property rights and land expropriation are a key component of this objective.