Strengthening Afghanistan's fight against COVID-19
Impacted by mounting political and security uncertainties even before the pandemic, COVID-19 has hit Afghanistan hard.
Aware of the threats of the coronavirus outbreak on the fragile health system and the economy, the World Bank moved quickly, fast-tracking a $100 million emergency grant on April 2, 2020, to help Afghanistan strengthen its public health preparedness.
This support enabled the Afghan government to reinforce healthcare services, to detect and isolate COVID-19 cases and to improve testing capabilities, and for hospitals and other medical facilities to stock up on critical medical supplies and equipment.
By mid-June, over 80 tons of essential supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical workers, had been airfreighted by UNICEF to Kabul, as part of this grant.
While COVID-19 cases spread across the country, misinformation about the disease spread even faster. Social media played an important role in promoting precautionary measures but was also pervaded with misconceptions and unfounded evidence. Some in rural communities resorted to taking antibiotics. At the same time, many young people in urban centers denied being infected - both because of the stigma surrounding the disease and fear of going into quarantine.
To tackle this spread of misinformation, the Ministry of Public Health, with World Bank support, implemented awareness campaigns, disseminating life-saving messages, encouraging self-quarantine, social distancing, wearing face masks, frequent handwashing and advising against ineffective and harmful treatments to ward off the disease.
Support for the economy
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent containment measures have had a significant negative impact on the already fragile Afghan economy. The lockdown and border closures have led to massive disruptions of economic activity and consumption, interruptions to imports, reduced remittances, and reduced exports.
Together with a $240 million grant from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), this $400 million support sustains a range of key economic and public finance reforms to improve business regulation and encourage private investment, expand social inclusion, and support civil service reforms.
Considering the important role businesses play, the World Bank also provided a $200 million grant in July to help provide relief to vulnerable people and businesses. This package supports the government’s effort to strengthen policies that promote faster recovery and keep basic infrastructure such as water, electricity, and telecommunications afloat and running.
Continued support to the people of Afghanistan
World Bank support will not end here. The Bank has restructured its portfolio of ongoing projects in Afghanistan to release funds for the country's immediate needs and sustain the government's efforts to manage fiscal constraints. More support is planned to improve water supply, sanitation, and hygiene as part of the COVID-19 response.
The Citizens' Charter Afghanistan Project (Citizens' Charter) supports the first phase of the Government of Afghanistan's 10-year Citizens' Charter National Program and will target one-third of the country. The Citizens' Charter aims to improve the delivery of core infrastructure and social services to participating communities through strengthened Community Development Councils (CDCs). These services are part of a minimum service standards package that the government is committed to delivering to the citizens of Afghanistan.
Implementation progress includes: In rural areas: As of May 15, 2020, over 11,400 new CDCs were elected, more than 2,100 Cluster CDCs were registered, and almost 11,800 CDCs completed Community Development Plans (CDPs). In terms of subproject implementation, 2,880 subprojects had been completed and more than 6,300 projects are underway. There are also 28 joint projects that are ongoing across 92 communities.
In urban areas: Implementation has been rolled out in over 850 communities. A total of 850 CPs were completed; 850 CDCs elected, 850 CDPs completed, and 944 sub-project proposals approved.
By the end of the first phase of the project 1) 12.2 million Afghans will be reached; 2) 4.5 million people will have access to clean drinking water; 3) quality of service delivery in health, education, rural roads, and electrification will be improved; 4) citizen satisfaction and trust in government will increase; and 5)
Bringing most of the efforts in public health service delivery under one umbrella in Afghanistan, the Sehatmandi (Health) Project aims to increase the utilization and quality of health, nutrition, and family planning services across Afghanistan. The project supports the implementation of a Basic Package of Health Services and Essential Package of Hospital Services through contracting arrangements across the country. Sehatmandi also supports efforts to strengthen the capacity of the Ministry of Public Health at central and provincial levels to carry out its stewardship functions effectively.
With the support of the Sehatmandi project and its predecessor project in the health section, the System Enhancement for Health Action in Transition Program (SEHAT), health indicators have seen significant improvement. For example, the newborn mortality rate fell from 53 to 23 per 1,000 live births from 2003 to 2018.
The number of functioning health facilities increased from 496 in 2002 to more than 2,800 in 2018, while the proportion of facilities with female staff increased; and between 2006 to 2018 births attended by skilled health personnel among the lowest income quintile increased from 15.6 percent to 59 percent.
Infrastructure and Rural Development
The National Rural Access Project focuses on year-round rural access to basic social services. As of January 2020, More than 3,300 km of rural roads have been upgraded through projects financed by IDA, ARTF, and other funds. The program also established the new Geographical Information System based network planning and rolled out the first nationwide inventory and condition survey of rural roads.
The ARTF supported the National Horticulture and Livestock Project to promote the adoption of improved technologies by target farmers. The project has financed the establishment of 35,520 hectares (ha) of new pistachio and fruit orchards in 34 provinces. In addition, over 33,000 ha of existing orchards have been rehabilitated and some 143,000 kitchen gardening schemes were established.
Financed by IDA and the ARTF, Since 2011, the Irrigation Restoration and Development Project helped rehabilitate 206 irrigation schemes, benefiting 262,975 hectares and 591,000 farmer households. Regular data collection is now occurring from 183 hydrological and 56 meteorological stations. In addition, 40 cableway stations for flow measurement at selected hydrology stations have been installed.
Financed by IDA and the ARTF, the Women's Economic Empowerment–Rural Development Project is a follow-on project to the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Project (AREDP) that aims to increase social and economic empowerment of poor rural women in selected communities. The pace of social mobilization under WEE-RDP has been remarkably high and more than 422,000 SHGs have been established as of August 2020, of which 80 percent are women’s groups. A total of 95,153 trainings were conducted by the project including its Facilitating partners in th last one year.