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FEATURE STORY

Building Bridges and Better Memories in Panjshir Province

January 7, 2014

The 60 meter long suspension bridge over the Panjshir river near Urrow village, Panjshir. Able to take cars it has changed the lives of the villagers and in some cases saved lives by allowing injured people to get medical attention much more quickly.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Residents of a remote valley no longer have to brave the surging waters of Panjshir River to access schools, hospital and shops, thanks to a new suspension bridge.
  • The bridge is funded by the Afghanistan Rural Access Program, implemented by the Ministry of Public Works and supported by the World Bank and ARTF.
  • The program’s objective is to enable rural communities to benefit from all-season road access to basic services and facilities. It also aims to improve connectivity to isolated communities in remote areas.

URROW VILLAGE, Panjshir Province - The new suspension bridge at Urrow village replaces one that told sad tales. In this remote Afghan valley in Panjshir province, villagers still tell grim stories about the old pulley-and-cable bridge that once hung between narrow iron posts over the surging Panjshir River.

People remember the shepherd who stumbled down a nearby mountain pass and died before friends could swing him across the old bridge to hospital. Stories recall school children who drowned in the fierce spring river runoff and many tell of a foreigner who fell off the pulley bridge and dropped precious film of Ahmad Shah Massoud, their much-loved resistance leader, into the river’s muddy waters.

“Before this new bridge, people had terrible problems, lots of losses here,” recalls Abdul Alim Allahyar, head of a local Community Development Council (CDC) that finally requested construction of a sturdy, new 67-meter bridge to replace the makeshift structure. Four CDCs, representing local villagers, eventually worked together on the proposal for a suspension bridge which today boasts the longest single span of its kind in the north-central province.

The bridge was completed four years ago with funding (AFs 8,636,400 approximately $159,000) from the Afghanistan Rural Access Program (ARAP). The program is implemented by the Ministry of Public Works with support from the World Bank and Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF). The program’s objective is to enable rural communities to benefit from all-season road access to basic services and facilities. ARAP also assists with construction of new bridges to improve connectivity to isolated communities in remote areas.

“Now we appreciate this bridge every day and thank all those who helped to make it possible,” says Allahyar. The red, yellow and blue bridge stands against a backdrop of steep, rock-strewn mountain slopes. Through the bridge, people now travel easily to the opposite bank where a narrow highway runs the length of their province for more than 100 kilometers.

In this remote Afghan valley in Panjshir province, villagers still tell grim stories about the old pulley-and-cable bridge that once hung between narrow iron posts over the surging Panjshir River.

Open Quotes

Now travelling is not difficult or dangerous for us. Our children can easily go to school and if people are sick, they can get to hospital. Close Quotes

Abdul Mutaleb
Villager, Urrow village

The bridge is a big improvement over the old one. In the future, villagers hope to improve it so heavy trucks can cross it too.

Easy access to school and hospital

The wood plank surface of Urrow Bridge can also handle large cars, but not heavy trucks. That’s something villagers hope to change one day, if they eventually can get funding for another support pier at the bridge’s midpoint, says Allahyar.

But the new bridge is still a big improvement over the old one. In the past, villagers either braved the pulley system or walked 20 kilometers in one direction or 15 kilometers the other way to access bridges, recalls villager Abdul Mutaleb. “Now travelling is not difficult or dangerous for us,” says Mutaleb, 45. “Our children can easily go to school and if people are sick, they can get to hospital.”

Abdul Salam, 60, says he lost his brother because of the old pulley bridge. The man was herding sheep at higher pastures on the mountainside when he stumbled and fell down the rocky slope, Salam recalls. “He was dead by the time we could get him across the river to hospital.”

Across the river are bigger shops, the hospital, mosques, a high school, two primary schools and two small universities, explains villager Mohammad Din, who has five children. “My daughter goes across every day to university now,” says Mohammad Din, 50. “She studies economics there, but it would be impossible without this bridge.” Several children have drowned trying to use the old pulley system, he says.

As a boy, Ghias Niazi, 41, says he often swam across the river, hiding a pile of dry clothes near the shore when he attended school. As a teenager, he braved the glacial waters even at midnight, he recalls. Today, Niazi pilots a helicopter for an Afghan ministry when he’s not home in his village. “This is a good place with good people who can now easily join with others because of this bridge,” he says. “Not everyone can swim these waters,” he recalls with a laugh.

Looking on, 13-year-old Ahmad Rohid says he can’t imagine his world without the bridge. “I am thinking that today I would not be going to school, but maybe just sitting at home.”