Infrastructure Drives ADB Strategy in Afghanistan | Asian Development Bank

Infrastructure Drives ADB Strategy in Afghanistan

Article | 7 November 2017

After decades of conflict, Afghanistan continues to face a severe infrastructure deficit. ADB’s new country strategy focuses on energy, transport, and agriculture and natural resources.

Creating jobs, enabling private sector investment, and building a self-reliant country are among Afghanistan’s central development objectives. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is committed to supporting each of these goals.

After decades of conflict, Afghanistan continues to face a severe infrastructure deficit that holds back economic growth. Only about 32% of the population has access to grid-connected electricity. More than 70% of the interprovincial and interdistrict roads are in a poor state. Only 10% of irrigated land has formal irrigation systems. The poverty rate is close to 40%.

Afghanistan and ADB recently agreed a country partnership strategy for 2017-2021. ADB is expected to provide $887 million in grants to Afghanistan through 2020 with a focus on energy, transport, and agriculture and natural resources. To date, ADB has provided over $4.9 billion in grants and loans to the country. But Samuel Tumiwa, ADB Country Director for Afghanistan, says ADB’s support is about much more than money.

What are Afghanistan’s development priorities?

Afghanistan’s vision for its development is really about making itself more self-reliant. It’s about creating jobs for the people. It’s about opening up the private sector for greater investment. And it’s about making itself much more resilient. And we propose to support that.

Our focus is really about creating opportunities for women and men. Creating jobs, creating ways for them to improve their livelihoods, improve their welfare.

We have been a development partner in Afghanistan since the very beginning; when ADB opened in 1966 Afghanistan was a member country. Since our reengagement in 2001 we have been investing mainly in infrastructure. The government has asked us to focus on infrastructure and so we work in energy, we work in transport, and we work in agriculture and natural resources.

How will ADB help Afghanistan achieve its development goals?

One of the things that people think about when they talk about ADB is that it’s all about the money, it’s all about the lending. But, in actuality, lending is the third thing we do.

The most important thing we do is engage with the government in a real dialogue about a sector. We talk to the government about the sustainability of the sector.

We talk to the government about where the sector needs to be in 10 years and how to do the things that need to be done, or how to make the investments needed to get the sector to where it needs to be. And then we do a lot of capacity building, we do a lot of training and skills development so the government can do these things. Then only after those two steps do we make the investments.

So, the investments are really the third thing we do. Now, often the investments are the most tangible things you see: you see the road, you see the airport, you see the power lines, you see that people now have electricity, it’s much easier for them to travel. But these are really the outcome of the whole package of things that we do in Afghanistan.

What are the key features of the Afghanistan-ADB partnership?

Our new country partnership strategy covers 2017 to 2021 and is directly in line with the government’s national development framework, which covers the same period.

Our focus is really about creating opportunities for women and men. Creating jobs, creating ways for them to improve their livelihoods, improve their welfare. That’s number one.

Number two, we also want to help the government in training its staff, in building the capacity of the institutions so that ministries and agencies are strong enough to carry out the development work themselves.

And I think one of the areas where we can add a lot of value is to help Afghanistan be much more resilient to climate change. Afghanistan is very dependent on agriculture and with climate change and change in rainfall patterns, the country really needs a lot of help with that.

We also want to help Afghanistan be much more resilient to disasters: to flooding, to earthquakes.

How does experience inform ADB’s work in Afghanistan?

We have been working in Afghanistan a long time. I have worked there since 2003. And Afghanistan is an interesting case because it is a country that’s still in conflict. You can’t do business as usual there.

What we learned is that it is all on a case-by-case basis. Different parts of the country need different approaches.

So, we have put in a new strategy over the past two years on how we need to do our projects a little differently. We can’t do projects in Afghanistan the same way we do it in India or in Indonesia or in Viet Nam. It has to be different.

We have very strict guidelines on procurement. But within these guidelines we have some flexibility. We looked at big projects. We thought that big contractors would be better able to manage the security situation. We learned that wasn’t the case. We went the other way and we tried smaller contracts; perhaps the smaller, local contractors could manage better. That wasn’t the case either.

What we learned is that it is all on a case-by-case basis. Different parts of the country need different approaches.

It was similar for security management—how do you manage the security of a project? In the past we have had a large security presence. But then some communities didn’t want to have the military or the police in their community. They said they would self-police the project and they would make sure that the contractors were safe. It’s a negotiated process with every community. We have to show flexibility.

The other thing we’ve learned is that we need to have a bigger presence in Afghanistan. We’ve added procurement staff in the resident mission. We’ve added more staff to work with the government agencies to help them do their work and develop their skills. We are much more hands on in working with our counterparts than we are in other countries.

Afghanistan’s needs are large. How can ADB help mobilize more funds?

We are focused on energy, agriculture and natural resources, and transport. We have been asked by the government to focus on infrastructure. But, yes, our funding availability is limited and the investment requirements are significantly large.

We administer, on behalf of the Government of Afghanistan, the Afghanistan Infrastructure Trust Fund, which is a fund where other development partners and cofinanciers can put in money to finance specific projects.

ADB has a very good track record of managing projects and has a very good track record of project implementation. And so, other donors trust ADB to work with the government to implement projects.

The Afghanistan Infrastructure Trust Fund has been the largest conduit for development partner assistance to the infrastructure sector. But we need to grow it. We need to improve our performance. We need to continue to improve the performance of the Fund. And we need to go out and do a lot more fundraising to help Afghanistan meet its financing needs.