The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a US$55mn grant to help rehabilitate Afghanistan’s primary road network damaged during two decades of conflict and neglect.

The grant, from ADB’s Asian Development Fund (ADF), will rehabilitate the 90km Qaisar-Bala Murghab section of the Herat-Andkhoy road, which is the last unpaved section of the national primary ring road.

“Damaged roads are serving as bottlenecks to the movement of people and goods, which aggravates the division and disintegration of the country,” says Dong-Soo Pyo, an ADB principal financial specialist. “Rehabilitating the road system is critical, especially for a landlocked country like Afghanistan. Roads are needed to establish major economic linkages domestically as well as with neighbouring countries.”

After two decades of conflict, there is a virtual loss of efficient means of transport from Kabul to other parts of the country, as well as to neigbouring countries. The project area is one of the least developed areas that the ring road touches, and, due to its remoteness and extreme weather conditions, people living in the area are in need of continued aid and assistance in basic social services, which an improved road will help facilitate.

Rehabilitation of the country’s road system is a top priority for both the government and ADB. The government, with external assistance, has been making massive efforts to reestablish the road network since 2002. Aside from current commitments from international funding agencies amounting to US$1bn, an estimated US$4.3bn in investments is needed from 2004 to 2010 alone to reach the government’s target of 32% paved roads.

ADB already has provided US$239mn for rehabilitation of Afghanistan’s primary road network. ADB also is administering US$50mn in road rehabilitation project grants from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction (US$35mn) and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (US$15mn).

“Improved roads and better connectivity will allow farmers to more readily market their agricultural crops, which in turn will stimulate more jobs in the agriculture sector, particularly benefiting the poor,” adds Pyo. “Lower transportation costs will also increase mobility among the poor to find jobs in other areas, and will improve access to schools and healthcare facilities.”

Aside from its local benefits, the project is part of a coordinated international assistance to improve the road connecting Herat to Andkhoy, which will become a major north-south link across the central mountains, and significantly improve the stability and reliability of the transport system in Afghanistan.

Together with international links to the Central Asian Republics, Iran, and Pakistan being improved, the road will also form a major road transport corridor from Central Asia to the warm water ports in the south.

The grant will also install toll facilities, including toll plazas and weighing machines, and support HIV/Aids prevention and anti-human trafficking awareness campaigns. Project management support will be provided to the Ministry of Public Works, which will serve as the executing agency for the project.

The government will contribute US$304,000 equivalent toward the project’s total cost of US$55.3mn. The project is due for completion in June 2008.