$250m agreement to improve roads across Hindukush signed
KABUL (Pajwhok): Afghanistan on Saturday signed a grant of$250 million with the World Bank to improve road transport links across the Hindukush mountain range, including rehabilitation of the Salang road and tunnel.
The bank would provide the grant from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank Group’s fund for the poorest countries.
Afghan Finance Minister Eklil Hakimi thanked the World Bank for funding such kind of infrastructural project, which he called as crucial for economic development of Afghanistan. The procurement process of the project will be implemented with transparency and accountability.
The new World Bank-supported project – the Trans-Hindukush Road Connectivity Project - will develop the existing mountain crossings into dependable, all-season roads that will allow the movement of vital passenger traffic and goods across the Hindukush mountain range throughout the year.
There are currently only two road crossings over the mountain range, with the Salang highway carrying most of the cross-Hindukush traffic. The other is the unpaved secondary crossing between Baghlan and Bamyan province.
The project will carry out civil works for the upgrading of the Baghlan to Bamyan road (152 km) to a paved road, as well as rehabilitate the Salang road and tunnel (87 km), the Finance Ministry said in a statement.
More than 90 percent of Afghanistan’s freight and almost 85 percent of intercity passenger traffic are carried by road. The existing highways provide international links to Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan while the country suffers from significant gaps in terms of connectivity and accessibility.
Nearly 63 percent of the population lives more than two kilometers away from an all-season road. These gaps in transport infrastructure result in relative isolation of parts of the country and negatively affect regional and internal integration and trade.
“The preparation phase of this project has shown that our ministry is not only capable of designing such an important project, but also has the capacity to implement it effectively,” said Afghan Public Works Minister Mahmoud Baligh,.
“As we start implementation, our focus remains to ensure that the trans-Hindukush route is always open for traffic, even while we build the Bamyan to Baghlan road and rehabilitate the Salang pass.”
Built in the 1960s, and located between 2,500 and 3,400 meters above sea level, the Salang pass is a critical road that connects Afghanistan’s northern provinces and the Central Asian countries with the rest of the country and beyond to the countries of South Asia.
The project’s key characteristics
The Trans-Hindukush Road Connectivity Project is expected develop and upgrade the Baghlan to Bamyan road to become a safe and dependable Hindukush crossing, which can be used as an alternative when the Salang highway is closed due to weather-related events or due to construction work.
Designing and carrying out repairs and maintenance on Salang highway, which would involve (i) various types of repairs to the tunnel and snow galleries that will require temporary, partial or full closures, and (ii) the construction of a new heavy-duty concrete pavement of about 30 km in length. Civil works to involve local communities and local contractors as much as possible.
“The Hindukush mountain range’s geographic location as a barrier between Afghanistan’s southern and northern parts makes it crucial to have an all-weather road across its high passes,” said Bob Saum, World Bank Country Director for Afghanistan.
“We hope the new project will help to economically empower the people of Afghanistan and boost trade and economic activity both within Afghanistan and beyond. Connecting villages to cities and provinces to each other is vital for generating jobs and getting the economy moving, and is therefore a key element in supporting the government’s poverty alleviation efforts.”
The Trans-Hindukush Road Connectivity Project will be implemented over the next seven years under the responsibility of the Ministry of Public Works. The ministry has appointed a high-level official to ensure close oversight of project implementation and its coordination with stakeholders.
Given the wider impact of this project on Afghanistan as a whole, an Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee is being set up to ensure inter-sectoral coordination and to obtain specific support from other agencies in areas such as land acquisition and security.
The committee will be chaired by senior staff from the Presidential Office and will include high-level representatives from various ministries and agencies as needed.
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