New Road Leads to Better Life
December 20, 2012
- A recently built road in the Sumara valley in central Afghanistan has transformed the lives of residents, bringing them better access to markets, healthcare, and schools.
- The Sumara road is one of many being built or rebuilt under the government’s National Emergency Rural Access Program, supported by the World Bank and ARTF, to provide rural communities year-round access to basic services and facilities.
- Life is better, says a Sumara valley resident, who, along with his neighbors, is helping to maintain a section of the road and ensure that it is always open.
SUMARA VALLEY, Afghanistan – Sometimes, a good stretch of road can mean the difference between life and death. Sharbat Ali believes this because he lost his wife at age 22 as she travelled, semi-conscious, on a donkey’s back down a mountain path for medical help.
“She died on that trail,” Ali, now 63, recalls. “I never knew what was wrong with her. We just couldn’t get to hospital.”
Today, Ali thinks things might have been different. About four years ago, construction was completed on a 15-kilometer stretch of road that winds through the Sumara valley, connecting Ali’s isolated village and nine others with a main thoroughfare to Bamiyan city in Afghanistan’s central region.
The road was built under the Afghan government’s National Emergency Rural Access Program. The purpose of the program is to provide remote communities with year-round access to basic services like hospitals, schools, and shops in larger towns, while providing jobs in road construction. This program is supported by World Bank’s Afghanistan Rural Access Program with total funding provided by the World Bank and the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) of $564 million.
The target is to rehabilitate nearly 5,000 kilometers of rural road, construct more than 5,600 meters of bridge, and contract 5,400 kilometers of rural road for routine maintenance. So far, more than 2,000 kilometers of road have been rehabilitated, some 1,900 meters of bridge constructed, and a contract signed for maintaining 1,360 kilometers of roads, generating over 2 million labor days. The projects cover all 34 provinces, which include thousands of villages.
We used to have so many problems. It was really bad when people got sick, or when we needed things, especially in winter or rainy times. But now everyone is coming here.
A lifeline for the valley
Ali says the Sumara road represents a real lifeline for his family and about 2,000 other people in his valley.
Recently, carrying the long-handled spade used by potato farmers in his region, Ali stopped on the road to explain that his neighbors also rely on the route to deliver produce to markets quickly and efficiently.
“Now cars come to us and take our crops to town, or we can get out to buy our supplies,” he says. “It takes much less time.” In the past, even those who could afford donkeys might spend a full day travelling back and forth to Bamiyan.
Ali was one of many local men hired as laborers when the road was first built, he says. “It was good that I earned so much money from this, too.”
Farmer Abdul Qayom thinks the road brought his community good fortune. A new primary school is being erected on a nearby hill because more people are moving into the valley and want to invest in its future, he notes.
“We used to have so many problems,” recalls Qayom. “It was really bad when people got sick, or when we needed things, especially in winter or rainy times. But now everyone is coming here.”
Communities help upkeep road
Tilling his crops in a nearby field, Piwand Ali says he moved his family to the valley one year ago after he saw its fertile fields, abundant water supply, and impressive road winding through the middle. “People can see this is a good place,” said Piwand Ali.
Eighteen-year-old Nawrooz Rasuli says he still walks two hours to and from high school each day, but it’s much simpler by road now.
“Before, the trails would get clogged with mud and snow, and we would be very wet and dirty at school,” recalls Rasuli, clutching a bag of dried tomatoes that his mother ordered from town. “I can pick up her groceries, but the rickshaws can also drive right to our door with everything now.”
Dur Mohammed Sultani, 76, said three community councils, representing three segments of the road, were unanimous about the need for it. And they’re still contributing to its upkeep.
A black and white striped pole, every 1,600 meters along the road, indicates a section where one resident is responsible for maintaining, clearing, and keeping the way navigable.
“Together, we all decided this road was the most important thing to us,” said Sultani, who is council head of the road’s middle section. “Now, life is much better. But we have to work hard to make sure the road stays open.”
Pointing to a donkey lumbering up the road with a massive iron pot on its back, Sultani said the animals still play an integral part in valley life, but their passage is also made easier. “You see, that pot is for a big celebration,” he explains, “because now we have many big things to celebrate.”