Roads with a Future
The situation in spring and winter was especially treacherous, with water and snow sitting in the potholes. Taxi driver Hassamuddin recalls the many exhausting journeys along the old highway, which runs from the town of Dehdadi to the larger link road to Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan. There is one that stands out particularly clearly in his mind:
Taxi driver Hassamuddin is taking his customers to Dehdadi again. | © GIZ GmbH / Mohammad Javid
‘I had picked up a mother with her newborn and her family from the hospital and we got stuck in a mud hole half way along the route,’ explains Hassamuddin. ‘It was dark, freezing and we couldn’t go forwards or back.’ The men attempted to free the car, but they were unsuccessful. ‘Only after beeping my horn for a long time did the locals come running to help us and were we able, thank God, to continue our journey,’ says Hassamuddin. After this bad experience, he decided to avoid the road to Dehdadi in future.
This is just one of the countless stories that people in the Dehdadi District tell about the highway, which for decades was nothing more than a dirt road. Heavy goods vehicles and bad weather wore it down and made some stretches impassable. Accidents occurred frequently.
‘Problems often arose when two cars met but were unable to pass each other due to the road being too narrow in places,’ says Haji Ghorban Shah, a village elder from Dehdadi. ‘In the rainy season, people were often unable to cross the road at all, as the mud was too deep, and children couldn’t make it to school.’
Haji Ghorban Shah is happy that his granddaugther can now reach her school also during heavy rain. | © GIZ GmbH / Mohammad Javid
Consequently, for the Dehdadi District Development Council, reconstruction of the link road has been high on its list of urgent infrastructure projects for many years. The district alone is home to 4,000 families, most of them farmers who transport their goods along the road. ‘Women, children, elders and persons with disabilities were particularly disadvantaged due to its poor condition,’ says Sayed Mustafa, head of the local Development Council.
With the help of the Regional Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF), financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the refurbishment project finally got under way. Some AFN 67 million (EUR 700,000) has been invested. The road was widened to 11 metres along a 1.7-kilometre section, and a six-metre wide section of lane was paved. ‘Bridges, culverts and drainage channels have been built on both sides of the road, creating a good standard of infrastructure,’ Mustafa reports.
The newly constructed road in Dehdadi District | © GIZ GmbH / Mohammad Javid
Since the road’s completion in November 2019, residents of the Dehdadi District have finally been able to travel safely to Mazar-e Sharif, whether to get to the hospital, go shopping or take care of other important matters. Taxi driver Hassamuddin is taking his customers to Dehdadi again too. ‘Sometimes, I even drive the route four times a day,’ he says.
The road is also bringing new business to the rural region, along with doctors’ surgeries and pharmacies. ‘In the past, there was barely any trade along the route, but now many people have seized the opportunity and opened business premises,’ says Dr Abdul Ghafour, who set up his own medical practice on the road. ‘People can now come directly to my practice instead of needing to travel into town for every little ailment; and they can also get their medication from the pharmacy next door.’
Some shop owners are even reporting a small boom in business. One of them is Shir Mohammed, who works on metal plates and produces metal utensils in his workshop. ‘Many more customers visit from other places due to the appeal of the road,’ he says. ‘And locals are now buying from me rather than in Mazar-e Sharif, as I carry out the work at lower cost and put my heart and soul into it.’
Mohammad Shir is happy with the new road. | © GIZ GmbH / Mohammad Javid
Expert knowledge and work for locals
RIDF has been financing infrastructure projects such as the road construction programme in Dehdadi through KfW Development Bank since 2010. The goal is to improve people’s living conditions and boost the regional economy. Provincial and district authorities and councils can submit proposals for such initiatives to the Provincial Development Committees (PDCs). After approval by a respective PDC, they are then implemented by the specialist agencies responsible. The latter also receive technical support from RIDF.
In this way, over 270 kilometres of road have already been built or upgraded, 98 kilometres of irrigation channels installed and refurbished, flood walls constructed, thousands of households connected to the electricity grid, and schools built. Many other projects are currently at the planning stage or under construction. In all of this, further training has been provided to experts from Afghanistan’s provincial and district authorities.
The successful road construction projects are the result of close cooperation between Afghan and German partners. | © GIZ GmbH / Mohammad Javid
One of these experts is Mohammed Shafi. The engineer and Acting Head of the Engineering Department of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development in Balkh has participated in several RIDF courses on topics such as GPS techniques and surveying. ‘The regular courses are very important to us, as they enhance the Ministry’s operational capabilities,’ says Shafi. Over 5,500 engineers and government officials from the northern provinces in total have taken part in RIDF training and coaching. Their newly acquired knowledge will enable them to independently plan and implement major infrastructure projects in future.
The local population is already benefiting at the construction stage as well. Three quarters of the workforce for all RIDF-financed infrastructure measures come from the immediate vicinity. Among them are women, who are employed to carry out tasks such as preparing food and producing transport bags. Up to 100 locals were working on the highway in Dehdadi at times.
Another four-kilometre link road has been built in the east of Mazar-e Sharif with support from RIDF, something the local population had been calling for many years. Here too, as in Dehdadi, the lane was paved to six metres in width with RIDF funding. The local authorities and population along a busy stretch of the road in the suburb of Karte Wahdat used the rebuilding work as an opportunity to invest together and expand the paved surface to ten metres in width. ‘The municipality of Mazar-e Sharif took responsibility for one metre of this, while residents financed the rest,’ says Haji Mohammadullah, the Head of the Local Shura (District Council). ‘In this way, the road has become a joint project for all of us and we’ll also maintain it together.’
The Sajadia Road in Karte Wahdat. | © GIZ GmbH / Mohammad Javid
As in Dehdadi District, many things have also improved for residents in Karte Wahdat as a result of the road’s construction. ‘In the past, we often had to contend with mudslides and potholes, and many taxi drivers stopped taking passengers, even ill people,’ said Mohammadullah. ‘Thankfully, we’ve left these terrible times behind us.’
Esmatullah, a grocer in Karte Wahdat, can still remember the awful dust that used to hang permanently in the air, especially in the summer months. ‘I had to clean several times a day, and lots of customers complained that our goods were dirty and smelled bad,’ he says. ‘Many even developed respiratory illnesses.’ His business is now doing better, he only has to clean his shop once a week and his eleven-year-old son Mojtaba can travel to school safely at last.
Esmatullah in front of his shop. | © GIZ GmbH / Mohammad Javid
Soon after construction work finished in October 2019, the first families also moved to Karte Wahdat, as the suburb had suddenly become safer and cleaner than it was before. Since then, new apartment blocks have been springing up everywhere in the neighbourhood, houses are being renovated and streets are being upgraded by private investors.
Property prices have also risen, and a tangible economic upswing has started to get under way. ‘To us, the road is more than just a road. It brings development and growth and gives people better access to education and work,’ says local politician Qader Qarin. ‘We greatly appreciate the German Government’s commitment to infrastructure projects like this one.’
The boom is also benefiting many women who have built their livelihoods in Karte Wahdat, women such as Ms Mohammadi, whose beauty salon is far more profitable now that it is easier for her to keep her premises clean. ‘Brides even come to me from surrounding villages to get themselves ready for their wedding day,’ she says.
Ms Mohammadi owns a beauty salon that is now more profitable than before. | © GIZ GmbH / Mohammad Javid
And then there is Fatima, who lived as a refugee in Iran before returning to Afghanistan and setting up a small grocery store in Karte Wahdat that now makes more money than before the road’s construction. 'It's good to see that there's a new school, a doctor's surgery or a university opening somewhere in Karte Whadat almost every month and things are far more secure than in the past,' says Fatima. ‘We’re confident that our children will have a better future here.’
Published: August 2020
Programme: Regional Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF)
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Partner: Afghan Ministry of Finance (MoF)
Implementing organisation: KfW Development Bank
Provinces: Badakhshan, Baghlan, Balkh, Kunduz, Samangan and Takhar
Programme objective: To improve the living conditions in northern Afghanistan by providing basic infrastructure. Administration and citizen groups at district and provincial level are empowered to plan, implement and operate infrastructure projects themselves to meet the population’s needs