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.

Spotlight on the Precious Stones of Afghanistan

For centuries, Afghanistan has been a leading producer of lapis lazuli, a gemstone favored by the ancient Egyptians. The country is also rich in several other semi-precious stones—a recent joint study by the United States Geological Survey and the Pentagon estimating the net value of Afghanistan’s untapped minerals to be around $3 trillion.

In this article, we look at Afghanistan’s gem mining industry and the jewels it exports all over the world.

Lapis Lazuli

lapis lazuli

This royal blue metamorphic rock has been prized since antiquity for its vivid color. Mining this intense blue stone since 8000 BCE, Afghanistan has some of the oldest known lapis mines in the world.

A favorite of the pharaohs, lapis was used throughout ancient Egypt to make ornaments and amulets, such as scarabs. Lapis jewelry has also been discovered at predynastic Egyptian excavations.

Lapis was used to decorate the Pyramids of Giza, and when it was ground into a fine powder, it could be used as an eyeshadow, a favorite of the Ptolemaic ruler Cleopatra. The gem will forever be associated with ancient Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun, whose ornate gold funeral mask was inlaid with the stone.

Lapis lazuli was popular in ancient Mesopotamia, where the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Akkadians utilized the gemstone to make seals and artifacts, an abundance of which have been recovered from across the region.

In the Bronze Age, lapis was sought after by Indus Valley civilizations. Toward the end of the Middle Ages, lapis lazuli became popular with the world’s most talented artists, who ground it into a powder, making the finest and most expensive of all blue paints: ultramarine. Renowned Renaissance and Baroque artists including Titian, Perugino, Vermeer, and Masaccio famously used the color. It was usually reserved for the clothing of a painting’s central figure, particularly the Virgin Mary.

While lapis lazuli is found in other countries, these deposits pale in insignificance when compared with the vast amounts found in Afghanistan. The stone was originally mined in Afghanistan’s Badakhshan district, where one mine has been continuously been producing lapis lazuli for the international market for more than 7,000 years.

Rubies and Sapphires

Just a few hours’ drive from Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul, lies the mountainous region of Jegdalek, an area renowned for producing some of the brightest, most valuable rubies in the world.

Operational for more than 500 years, Jegdalek’s ruby mines produce high-grade stones that have been popular with royalty for centuries. Despite the region’s global reputation as a leading producer of high-grade rubies, most of the stones mined in Jegdalek today are sapphires. These come in a range of different hues, from traditional blue to semi-transparent pink.

Emeralds

emeralds

Lying due north of Kabul, the Panjshir Valley is home to more than 172 separate emerald mines. Panjshir emeralds boast a distinctive bluish-green hue. They are rapidly becoming one of Afghanistan’s most prized gemstones.

Aria Gems is a new startup established by Habib Mohebi. Speaking with CNN, the entrepreneur recounted hearing about emerald mines as a young boy growing up in Kabul. Years later, Mohebi used his knowledge to reconnect him with his homeland, opening a mining operation in Afghanistan and exporting emeralds across the world. Headquartered in New York, with a gem cutting and processing center in North Dakota, Aria Gems transforms rough stones into high-end polished emeralds.

Since the company’s incorporation in 2013, Aria Gems has grown to become a leading supplier of Panjshir emeralds, shipping more than 30,000 carats of this highly sought-after stone all over the world.

Aquamarine

This blue-green member of the beryl gemstone family is prized the world over, with colors ranging from almost transparent to vivid cerulean blue. Afghan aquamarines tend to be paler in color.

Unlike emeralds, which usually feature flaws and inclusions, many aquamarine crystals are faultless. Duller, greener stones can withstand heat treatment at extremely high temperatures to achieve striking shades of sky blue. Indeed, many of the gemstones found on the market today are enhanced through heat treatment.

Tourmaline

Tourmaline

Over the past few decades, Afghanistan has grown famous for its spectacular tourmaline finds. The stone ranges in color from green, to blue, to vibrant raspberry pink, with a variety of shades in between. Like aquamarine, many tourmalines are virtually flawless in clarity.

Bi-colored tourmalines of blue-green or pink-green are occasionally found and are greatly sought after.

Other gemstones

Other gemstones commonly found in Afghanistan include red garnet, topaz, kunzite, fluorite, and quartz. Gemstone mining throughout the country is typically an artisanal activity, with high-quality stones entering the international market and sent overseas for precision cutting.

The World Bank estimates Afghanistan’s uncut gem trade to be worth around $2.75 million. With other institutions placing its value considerably higher, the government of Afghanistan is working to formalize the industry, expanding education in gemology, stonecutting, and polishing, and creating quality standards to govern Afghanistan’s blossoming gemological industry.

Everything You Need to Know about Afghanistan’s Textiles Industry

The Afghan government is currently implementing initiatives to revive the country’s textile industry. In this article, we look at the history of cotton, silk, and cashmere production in Afghanistan and potential future growth in the textile sector.

Afghan Cotton

Afghanistan produces more than 59,000 tons of cottons per year. Despite this, the country’s lack of processing factories presents significant challenges. In the past, Afghanistan boasted several major textile factories in Balkh, Kabul, Baghlan, Kandahar, and Parwan provinces employing around 30,000 people, but the industry declined over the last few decades.

cotton

Currently, only 6 percent of Afghan land is being cultivated. Afghanistan is a rugged, mountainous country. Just 12 percent of the nation is composed of arable land. Despite this, more than 80 percent of Afghans rely on agriculture to make a living.

As Afghan Finance Ministry spokesman, Ajmal Hamid Abdul Rahimzai explained to the Fashion Network website, industrialists have recently campaigned to have their recommendations to revive Afghanistan’s textile industry discussed by the high economic council. Revitalizing this valuable economic sector could create economic growth throughout Afghanistan.

Afghanistan and India entered into a Memorandum of Understanding regarding textiles production. As per the memorandum, both countries have pledged their commitment to cooperating, developing closer economic relations, and strengthening bilateral ties in the production of textiles, cotton, clothing, handlooms, and man-made fiber.

Afghan Silk

located on the Silk Road, the Afghan city of Herat has a long history of silk production. After years of decline, Afghanistan’s silk industry is currently experiencing a revival. Silk thread is produced by silkworms. The creature is indigenous to Herat, thanks to the abundance of mulberry bushes found there. These plants provide the insects with a plentiful supply of food.

Silkworms use the silk thread they produce to build a cocoon around themselves. When unraveled, the silk fiber from just one cocoon can measure up to a mile in length. Just 8 kilograms of silkworms can produce up to 48 kilograms of cocoons. Silk collectors earn up to $140 biannually from collecting cocoons. This is a significant income in Afghanistan.

Spinners purchase silk cocoons from gatherers, using the fibers to spin silk thread. Historically, this was performed by hand. Since the process is somewhat protracted, this significantly limited a spinner’s income. Nevertheless, the advent of modern technology has led to largescale mechanization in the trade. A spinner with more than 30 years’ experience, Azatullah Amidi, explained to the Guardian that he was able to double his production thanks to the implementation of mechanized spinning equipment.

Once the thread is transferred onto bobbins, it is transported to other regions of Afghanistan, such as Mazar, Afghanistan’s fourth-largest city. Another celebrated stop on the ancient Silk Route, Mazar remains an important commercial trading center.

Afghan Cashmere

The cashmere goat is one of many native animals in Afghanistan, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Mongolia, and China. It takes a single goat up to 12 months to produce enough wool to make just one cashmere scarf. For hundreds of years, farmers in Herat have collected the thick undercoat shed by the goat every spring, throwing it on the fires used to cook food and heat their homes. It is only relatively recently that some isolated Afghan communities have learned that this fluff could be refined and spun to make a luxury product.

Cashmere

The discovery was life-changing for Mohammad Amin, a goat herder with a flock of 120. Every springtime, after his nanny goats have kids, they shed cashmere in huge handfuls. As Amin explained to AP News, buyers travel from far and wide to buy premium quality cashmere. He sells the surplus at market. With each animal yielding up to 250 grams, Mohammad Amin can earn more than $1,100 each season. This represents a sizeable income in a country where the national average is under $700 annually.

According to statistics published by the World Bank working in collaboration with the US Agency for International Development, despite the fact that 95 percent of Afghanistan’s 7 million cashmere goats could be used in cashmere production, as few as 30 percent are currently being combed for cashmere in this way. The majority of raw Afghan cashmere is purchased by Chinese intermediaries supplying low-cost clothing manufacturers.

Afghanistan ranks third in the world in terms of cashmere production. Mongolia comes second, producing 15 percent of the world’s cashmere, lagging far behind China, at 70 percent. In recognition of this lucrative market, the Afghan government recently unveiled a Cashmere Action Plan targeting the high end of the cashmere market, where just one sweater can cost anywhere up to $1,000. The strategy forms part of broader efforts enacted by the Afghan government designed to breathe new life in the country’s textile industry.