November 12, 2001 No. 11

Afghanistan: Reconstruction Program

November 12, 2001 | By Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli*
Afghanistan | No. 11

Afghanistan is a country in disarray. According to a "Brief Overview of Afghanistan's Economy" issued recently by the World Bank:

Afghanistan's economy is in a state of collapse. The three-year drought and resulting famine, the ban on opiumproduction, the choking of trade via Pakistan, and the massive displacement of population have exhausted what copingcapacity was left among families and civil society. The key economic institutions of state—a central bank, treasury, taxcollection and customs, statistics, civil service, law and order, judicial system—are extremely week or simply missing.Basic infrastructure—roads, bridges, irrigation, canals, telecommunications, electricity, markets—have beendestroyed. Afghanistan, which has always been at bottom of the poverty and social indicator rankings of countries,must now be considered the poorest, most miserable state in the world.

If that is not enough, the country has the largest collection of a variety of unexploded mines and other types of ammunition. According to Al-Hayat newspaper, there are 800 square kilometers of Afghani territory covered by about 3 million unexploded mines in strategic locations frequented by people in the course of their daily life. Before recent bombing, between 40 and 100 Afghanis were injured weekly and half of them would die before they reach the hospital. The rest would be permanently disfigured. The current bombing of Afghanistan will add more unexploded ammunition. The World Bank estimates the cost of de-mining at $500 million.

In anticipation of an eventual change of government in Afghanistan, the World Bank released, on November 7, "Approach Paper on Afghanistan" to be discussed in a three-day conference, "Preparing for Afghanistan's Reconstruction," to be held in Islamabad, November 27 to 29. The organizers hope to gather a wide range of experienced participants from the assistance community, donors and representatives from the community of knowledgeable Afghans.

Short-term priorities for the reconstruction period could include, according to the World Bank:

  • Agricultural recovery and food security
  • Livelihood generation for returning refugees and displaced people
  • Support to existing communities through the provision of basic services and small-scale development and empowerment programs
  • Rapid rehabilitation of Afghanistan's main road network
  • Expansion of the de-mining program
  • Massive short-run employment generation through public works programs
  • Re-starting and expanding key social services like education and health, and focus on reaching girls and women
  • Human capacity mobilization for social services, infrastructure and public administration.

It is a tall order, indeed. Even with enormous resources from outside, as there will be little generated internally, and under conditions of relative peace and security, it may take a decade or more to put the crippled economy of Afghanistan on even wobbly feet. The tasks ahead are simply staggering and may prove more difficult to attain than bringing down the Taliban regime in the country.

The World Bank has not provided an estimate about the cost of reconstruction in Afghanistan. However, in terms of order of magnitude, $3 billion was required for infrastructure development for the first two years in the West Bank/Gaza with a population not exceeding 2 million.

Source: Al-Hayat, November 2, 2001; Reporting from a World Bank Analysis; Al-Hayat, November 9, 2001.

*Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli is Senior Analyst of MEMRI's Middle East Economic Studies Program.

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