11 September 2001>News Stories>Afghanistan's huge rebuilding task

Afghanistan's huge rebuilding task
BBCNews . 20 November

Years of war have destroyed the infrastructure

The reconstruction of Afghanistan, which has been ravaged by years of war, is a huge undertaking and likely to cost billions of dollars.

Talks co-hosted by the US and Japan are focusing on agricultural assistance, water, sewage systems, de-mining, health and education.

The United Nations Development Programme has already drawn up reconstruction guidelines spanning a period of five to eight years.

The UNDP's newly-appointed head of reconstruction efforts Mark Malloch-Brown said the rehabilitation of Afghanistan's cities was high on the priority list.

"Municipal infrastructure has taken a terrible hit," he said.

Afghanistan's agricultural economy is also in urgent need of repair.

Until this year's ban on poppy cultivation, a vast number of households have been dependent on opium - in some provinces 95% of all households sold opium for their livelihood.

The UNDP recently published a strategy for Afghanistan which includes plans for generating "alternative livelihood strategies to poppy cultivation".

Helping farmers
Mr Malloch-Brown said aid agencies are planning to provide farmers with seed and irrigation support.

But he said the ultimate aim is self-sufficiency with farmers becoming independent of international aid, just as the country must develop an autonomous system of justice, security and revenue collection.

Asked how much the nation's reconstruction would cost, Mr Malloch-Brown said that it was "a little premature" to give an estimate.

But he added that he was anxious to see a credible figure reached. The number would be based on parallel cases such as that of Mozambique, he said.

The reconstruction effort would be financed through an external trust fund run by foreign development and financial experts, under a World Bank plan.

According to a Washington Post report, the plan would involve channelling money through an independent Afghan reconstruction agency run by a combination of foreign and Afghan experts. This would provide a safeguard against corruption, infighting and waste.

Ahmed Rashid, Afghan affairs expert and author of several books on the region, says the priority is to rehabilitate agriculture, rebuild the roads and establish basic communication networks.

"There hasn't been a postal network since 1989," he told the BBC's World Business Report. With no central bank or Treasury and no formal system of revenue collection, the reconstruction task is huge, he said. With gas and oil reserves, Afghanistan does have huge economic potential, he said.

World Bank plan
The World Bank recently unveiled its own blueprint for the reconstruction of Afghanistan with a list of short, medium and long-term goals.

The short-term goals include agricultural recovery and rehabilitation of the main road network, restarting key social services and employment generation through public works schemes.

In the longer term, the bank hoped to see the establishment of "sound economic management institutions" and energy development.

The report describes the cost of the programme as "quite high", suggesting it would cost the equivalent of $1,000 per person.

The bank suggested an estimates total cost of $25bn.

Only 3% of girls are educated

Mine clearance alone is estimated to cost $500 million, according to World Bank figures.

Hard times
In today's Afghanistan, very little functions as it should.

After delays caused by technical problems, television broadcasts have returned to the capital.

But electricity is unreliable. Many roads are unusable, and the municipal water supply has been destroyed.

Less than a quarter of the population has access to safe water and only 12% of people have access to adequate sanitation.

The nation's transportation and communication systems, heavy and small-scale industries, and agricultural infrastructure are almost entirely damaged, a UNDP report concluded.

The education system is also in crisis.

The primary enrolment rate is estimated at 39% for boys and as low as 3% for girls, according to UNDP figures.

Aid workers are able to provide education to only 7% of the 4.4 million children of primary school age.

Ill health
But due to the state of the health care system, many Afghan children do not even live to reach primary school age.

One in four children do not survive to their fifth birthday and an estimated 15,000 women die each year from pregnancy-related causes, according to UNDP statistics.

Nearly 1,000 children died during the measles epidemic during the spring of 2000 in Afghanistan. Immunisation would have saved them all.

There is an average of one doctor per 50,000 people in Afghanistan. And even these meagre resources are not evenly distributed.

Of Afghanistan's 330 districts, 50 have neither a basic health care centre nor access to adequate sanitation.

The UN spokesman in Kabul, Eric Falt, says international help on a huge scale is essential.

"The reconstruction is going to run into billions of dollars," he said. "I do feel that the international community understands that and will be ready to commit funds in the future.

Afghanistan 'must become autonomous'

"After neglecting this country for so long I think we feel at the United Nations that it's the least all the influential countries that are part of it can do."

But the international community has made it clear that reconstruction assistance can only follow on from political progress in Afghanistan.

At the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meeting in Ottawa, the head of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, said the organisation was ready to move immediately, but that a peaceful solution to the current problems, bringing together all Afghans, was a prerequisite.