6 World Bank Projects Improving Quality of Life in Afghanistan

For nearly 20 years, the World Bank has supported the ongoing reconstruction and development of Afghanistan. Working closely with other bilateral and multilateral agencies to ensure the best use of donor resources, the World Bank has implemented programs and projects across a diverse range of focus areas—including institution and capacity building, job creation, human capital development, citizen engagement, infrastructure, and connectivity—all to help improve the quality of life for every Afghan citizen.

As of February 2021, more than two dozen World Bank projects are ongoing across Afghanistan. These include:

The Afghanistan Second Skills Development Project (ASDP II)

One of the key ways in which the government of Afghanistan aims to boost economic growth and development is by helping Afghan workers improve their vocational and technical skills. The World Bank supports this goal through the ASDP II. Like the original program, this second iteration of the ASDP focuses on strengthening the technical vocational education and training (TVET) institutional system as a whole, enhancing the performance of individual TVET schools and institutes, and ensuring that TVET teachers have the competencies needed to provide the appropriate training. Key achievements of ASDP II so far include supporting an in-service Technical Teacher Training Institute and redeveloping the curricula for a number of priority trades (such as construction and information technology) to better respond to market needs.

The Access to Finance Project

The ability to access credit when necessary is one of the most important factors that allows businesses to grow and thrive. However, many micro, small, and medium enterprises in Afghanistan struggle to access the credit they need because most traditional financial lenders are not well equipped to serve them. In response to this problem, the Access to Finance Project is working to build institutional capacity within the finance sector so that these smaller businesses will have more—and better— financing options. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, as of the end of 2020, the Access to Finance Project (through its support of the Afghan Credit Guarantee Foundation) had provided loans of nearly $20 million to over 530 enterprises.

The COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project

Over the last year, one of the World Bank’s major priorities has been to help Afghanistan cope with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the creation of the COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project, the World Bank is working to mitigate the threat of the pandemic and improve Afghanistan’s readiness for potential future public health emergencies. Key components of this project include slowing the spread of COVID-19 by improving disease detection and diagnosis capabilities, strengthening the delivery of essential healthcare services, developing comprehensive communication strategies addressing social distancing and other mitigation practices, and providing an immediate and effective response to pandemic-related crises.

The Afghanistan Sehatmandi (Health) Project

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has been the most critical health issue in Afghanistan for some time, other World Bank projects in the area of health care are still in operation. The most important of these is the Afghanistan Sehatmandi (Health) Project, which is a major multi-year initiative that aims to improve access to and quality of healthcare services across the entire country. By financing performance-based contracts for health service delivery, building and honing a performance management culture in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health, and conducting extensive health-related outreach work in Afghan communities, the Sehatmandi Project aims to keep building on the considerable progress the Afghan health system has made during the past decade.

The Herat Electrification Project

In many areas of Afghanistan, demand for electricity has outstripped supply in recent years. It is, unfortunately, not uncommon for Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS), the country’s national power utility, to be unable to meet its customers’ needs, and power outages are particularly common during periods of extreme summer and winter weather. The Herat Electrification Project aims to address the problem of electricity supply in Herat province by giving DABS the necessary support to connect over 230,000 people and 1,600 institutions with new or improved electricity services. As part of this project, new transmission lines and substations are under construction, sections of the grid are being densified and extended, and a grid code for the Afghanistan power system is being developed. In addition to these activities, the project recently supplied and installed solar-powered backup systems for 10 COVID-19-designated hospitals in Herat province—a truly remarkable and life-saving accomplishment.

The Afghanistan Digital CASA 1 Project

Since 2018, the Afghanistan Digital CASA 1 Project has been working to bring all of Afghanistan into the digital era. The project’s primary aims are to increase access to affordable Internet for all Afghans, stimulate private investment in the sector, and support a regionally integrated digital infrastructure that will allow the delivery of digital government services. To achieve these objectives, the World Bank is working closely with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, which is the implementing agency for this project.

5 Fascinating Facts about Afghanistan’s Official Languages

Did you know that Afghanistan has not one but two official languages? After coexisting on an informal basis for centuries, both Pashto and Dari (the Afghan term for the language which is also known as Farsi or Persian) were recognized in Afghanistan’s 2004 constitution as the two official languages of the state.

Read on for a look at some fascinating facts about the history, usage, and relationship between these two different but equally important tongues.

The proportional balance between Dari and Pashto speakers is fairly close.

According to recent estimates, roughly 50 percent of all Afghans speak some version of Dari, while over 40 percent speak Pashto.

Dari—the first language of ethnic groups such as the Tajiks, Hazaras, and Aimaqs—is generally viewed as the lingua franca in Afghanistan and has long been used for business and government transactions. Pashto, on the other hand, is the first language of the Pashtuns, who comprise Afghanistan’s largest ethnic minority. It’s also interesting to note that bilingualism and multilingualism are fairly common across the country. For example, many Pashtuns in urban areas also speak Dari, while Dari-speaking Afghans with higher levels of education often have a good command of Pashto as well.

Dari and Pashto are both written using the Arabic alphabet.

Although Arabic is linguistically quite different from Afghanistan’s official languages, it is the Arabic alphabet that is primarily used for both Dari and Pashto, with a few modifications. For example, the modern Dari alphabet includes three extra characters that represent sounds that do not occur in traditional Arabic. Pashto goes even further, using all the Arabic letters, the additional Dari letters, and a number of other special Pashto letters for sounds that are not found in either of the other two languages (in total, the Pashto alphabet has 44 letters, while standard Arabic has 28).

school children

Not everyone is in favor of the term Dari.

Although Dari is the official Afghan word for the Persian language, not everyone agrees on using it. Some Persian-speaking Afghans object to the use of the word on the grounds that it makes the language seem like a separate dialect (that is, the Afghan dialect of Farsi), when in fact, Farsi and Dari are simply two different words for the same language. (This is certainly not to say that there are not distinct accents and variations when it comes to vocabulary and usage, as indeed there are throughout the country, only that these are not enough to constitute a completely different dialect.)

Other Persian speakers believe that calling their language Dari makes them feel too separated from the cultural, linguistic, and historical ties that they share with the rest of the Persian-speaking world, including countries such as Iran and Tajikistan. As a compromise, some linguistic activists in Afghanistan refer to the Persian language as Farsi-Dari.

Some of Afghanistan’s best-known poetry is written in Dari.

Over the course of the last two millennia, during which a series of Persian dynasties spread Farsi throughout significant areas of Central Asia, the language developed a deep, rich, textual presence. Today, scholars can draw on a wealth of historical Persian volumes on philosophy, science, and statecraft to trace the evolution of the Persian language over the course of centuries. Part of this extensive literature includes many works of poetry, including those by Afghanistan’s best-known and most beloved poet Rumi.

A 13th-century poet and theologian, Rumi was known for mixing sensual and religious themes and imagery together in his work. His most famous work, known as the Mathanvi or the Masnavi, is a six-book spiritual epic that attempts to teach Sufi Muslims how to become one with God. Originally written in Dari, Rumi’s poetry has been translated into many different languages and is widely read all over the world.

Unlike Dari, Pashto was a primarily spoken language.

Although the last few centuries have seen an important expansion in the body of writing and literature in Pashto, this language, in contrast to Dari, was long a primarily spoken language. (This is partly to do with the relatively restricted location of Pashto speakers, who have been largely isolated in the mountains of the Hindu Kush.)

As a result, the richness of the Pashto oral tradition is remarkable. For example, in addition to long-form oral poetry and stories, a special genre of short Pashto folk poems called landays has developed. Composed by women and typically sung aloud to the beat of a drum, these poems describe the everyday trials, tribulations, and joys of life for Afghan women. Today, alongside this oral tradition, Pashto writing and literature are more widely recognized due in part to the acclaim given to poets such as Khushal Khan Khattak, a 17th-century warrior and poet whose works touch on subjects such as unity, honor, war, and love.

A Look at 7 UN Agencies Working in Afghanistan

Committed to building a stable, just, and prosperous future for Afghanistan, the World Food Programme, UNESCO, and the World Bank are a few of the UN agencies that are undertaking development efforts in the country. Through its “country team,” a diverse collection of affiliated or partner organizations, the UN works across a number of different areas and oversees an incredible variety of projects all over Afghanistan. No fewer than 27 UN-associated organizations are currently involved in the country’s development. Read on for a closer look at some of these agencies, who they are, and what they’re doing in Afghanistan.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Food and Agriculture Organization

A member of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) since 1949, Afghanistan works closely with the organization via its Ministries of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock; Energy and Water; Public Health; and Rural Rehabilitation and Development. Today, FAO maintains five regional and three provincial offices around the country and focuses on contributing to sustainable agricultural development. Some of the key strategic objectives of FAO’s work in Afghanistan include reducing rural poverty, eradicating hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition; and enabling local, national, and international food and agricultural systems that are more inclusive and efficient.

International Labour Organization (ILO)

International Labour Organization

A specialized agency of the UN, the International Labour Organization (ILO) is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year (Afghanistan joined the ILO in 1934, becoming the organization’s 60th member, and is considered today to be an original member state). Throughout its history, ILO has maintained that institution-building and local economic development are essential elements of social progress, particularly in nations like Afghanistan that are seriously affected by natural disasters and continuing conflicts. For this reason, ILO established a liaison office in Kabul in 2003 to provide resources, support, and guidance to Afghanistan in areas such as employment strategies, labor law reform, skills development, child labor, and social dialogue.

International Organization for Migration (IOM)

International Organization for Migration

Established in 1951, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is the world’s leading intergovernmental organization in the field of migration based on its founding vision of humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. IOM established its mission in Afghanistan in 1992 and has maintained a continuing presence in the country ever since. In fact, IOM Afghanistan is one of the largest IOM missions in the world, comprised of close to 300 staff members working in nine regional offices. In cooperation with government and humanitarian partners and local communities, IOM Afghanistan oversees a range of programs and initiatives in areas such as humanitarian assistance, community stabilization, and migration management. For example, in recent years, one focus area of IOM has been on facilitating the return of skilled Afghan workers to their home country.

United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN HABITAT)

United Nations Human Settlements Programme

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN HABITAT) is the UN agency mandated to promote towns and cities that are socially and environmentally sustainable, and that provide adequate shelter for all. In Afghanistan, UN HABITAT is working with many partners to address the increasingly urgent challenge of Afghanistan’s unprecedented urban growth rates. According to UN HABITAT, while urbanization does offer important new opportunities for social and economic development, it is essential that this kind of growth be accompanied by sound planning and innovative policy approaches if it is to benefit Afghanistan’s population and society as a whole.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

United Nations Environment Programme

Once pristine and rich in biological diversity, Afghanistan’s natural landscapes have been devastated by decades of conflict, severe natural disasters and, more recently, the impact of rapid and unplanned urban growth and development. Since 2002, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been working to mitigate these effects by establishing the environmental foundations for Afghanistan’s sustainable development. Today, the organization focuses on capacity building for environmental governance and natural resources management by providing government and non-governmental partners with training and technical assistance in fields ranging from environmental law and policy to climate change adaptation.

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

United Nations Population Fund

Since 1976, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has been working in Afghanistan to reduce infant, child, and maternal mortality; increase access to reproductive health services; and support universal primary education. The goal of the organization is to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, and that all children can be born safely and be able to fulfill their potential. In 2002, with the re-establishment of its country office in Afghanistan, UNFPA embarked on a new program of long-term support for women and young people, which has included the rehabilitation of three maternity hospitals in Kabul.

United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)

United Nations Office for Project Services

The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) has supported reconstruction and development efforts in Afghanistan since 1995, with a particular focus on the construction of sustainable infrastructure. To achieve this goal, the organization collaborates with various partners and stakeholders, and concentrates on the key priorities of national ownership and capacity development. Some successes that UNOPS has achieved in Afghanistan include the construction and rehabilitation of more than 10,000 kilometers of roads; enhanced electricity access to 1,500 households and 100 small businesses; and support for the National Emergency Employment Program, which improved rural livelihoods by creating 2.5 million labor days during which 20 bridges were rehabilitated.