AFGHANISTAN: New bridges to provide vital food access

IRINnews Asia, Thu 25 Jul 2002

ISLAMABAD, - The construction of five new bridges by the Aga Khan Foundation between the remote northeastern Afghan province of Badakhshan and the southeastern Badakhshoni Khui province in Tajikistan, will help improve the food situation in extremely vulnerable areas, aid workers told IRIN on Thursday. Both provinces are very mountainous, difficult to reach and are geographically isolated in economic terms.

"The people are isolated in these areas and the bridges will give them access to much needed markets for access to basic supplies," country director for the Aga Khan Development Network in Afghanistan, Najmi Kamji, in the Afghan capital, Kabul, told IRIN. "The intention was to bring both countries closer together," he added

In order to make Afghanistan more prosperous, Kamji said it was important not to deal with the country in isolation, but to link it with the rest of Central Asia and particularly it neighbours. "We think building the bridges will be a starting point for this."

Already, two bridges were under construction with a further three planned at a total cost of some US $ 2 million. The first was built near the border district of Korugh in Tajikistan and would link it to a neighbouring village in Afghanistan. However, Kamji explained that in time roads would have to be built on the Afghan side so that people could access the crossing easily. The second is being built north of Korugh at Qal' aikhum, providing access to the very remote Afghan village of Darvoz. "We expect the first two bridges to be completed soon," he said.

The fact that the inhabitants of thr border area were of the same ethnic origin was a facilitating factor. "Communities on both sides will feel comfortable crossing over because they are of a similar culture," he explained, saying that both were in need of each others help.

But on a wider scale, the bridges would also serve as a vital lifeline to the flow of humanitarian aid to northeastern Afghanistan which is accessible from Tajikistan. Following the events of 11 September, many aid agencies were forced to pre-position food supplies in Tajikistan and use the border crossing at the Pyandzh river, which proved to be a very long an bureaucratic procedure. "We had an agreement of being able to cross the river at 19 different points in the river. We were using dingies and other horrific means to cross the river as we had no other choice," the aid worker said.

Meanwhile, new links between the Central Asian countries were being welcomed by the aid community. "Levels of nutrition in parts of Badakhshan are very low and the bridges will give people access to much needed food," WFP spokesman in Kabul, Alejandro Chicheri, told IRIN. Some 80 percent of communities in the villages of Ragh, Shari Bozorg and Sheghnan in Badakhshan are extremely vulnerable, he said.

All materials copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2002