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World Bank works to redirect frozen funds for humanitarian aid only

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(Last Updated On: November 30, 2021)

The World Bank is finalizing a proposal to deliver up to $500 million from a frozen Afghanistan aid fund to humanitarian agencies, people familiar with the plans told Reuters, but it leaves out tens of thousands of public sector workers and remains complicated by U.S. sanctions.

Board members will meet informally on Tuesday to discuss the proposal, hammered out in recent weeks with U.S. and U.N. officials, to redirect the funds from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), which has a total of $1.5 billion, Reuters reported.

Afghanistan’s 39 million people face a collapsing economy, a winter of food shortages and growing poverty three months after the the former government collapsed.

Afghan experts said the aid will help, but big gaps remain, including how to get the funds into Afghanistan without exposing the financial institutions involved to U.S. sanctions, and the lack of focus on state workers, the sources said.

The money will go mainly to addressing urgent health care needs in Afghanistan, where less than 7% of the population has been vaccinated against the coronavirus, they said.

For now, it will not cover salaries for teachers and other government workers, a policy that the experts say could hasten the collapse of Afghanistan’s public education, healthcare and social services systems.

They warn that hundreds of thousands of workers, who have been unpaid for months, could stop showing up for their jobs and join a massive exodus from the country.

The World Bank will have no oversight of the funds once transferred into Afghanistan, said one of the sources familiar with the plans. A U.S. official stressed that UNICEF and other recipient agencies would have “their own controls and policies in place.”

“The proposal calls for the World Bank to transfer the money to the U.N. and other humanitarian agencies, without any oversight or reporting, but it says nothing about the financial sector, or how the money will get into the country,” the source said, calling U.S. sanctions a major constraint.

While the U.S. Treasury has provided “comfort letters” assuring banks that they can process humanitarian transactions, concern about sanctions continues to prevent passage of even basic supplies, including food and medicine, the source added.

“We’re driving the country into the dust,” said the source. Crippling sanctions and failure to take care of public sector workers will “create more refugees, more desperation and more extremism.”

A State Department spokesperson confirmed that Washington is working with the World Bank and other donors on how to use the funds, including potentially paying those who work in “critical positions such as healthcare workers and teachers.”

The spokesperson said the U.S. government remains committed to meeting the  critical needs of the  Afghan people, “especially across health, nutrition, education, and food security sectors … but international aid is not a silver bullet.”

Established in 2002 and administered by the World Bank, the ARTF was the largest financing source for Afghanistan’s civilian budget, which was more than 70% funded by foreign aid.

The World Bank suspended disbursements after the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) takeover. At the same time, Washington stopped supplying U.S. dollars to the country and joined in freezing some $9 billion in Afghan central bank assets and halting financial assistance.

One major problem is the lack of a mechanism to monitor disbursements of funds in Afghanistan to ensure Taliban leaders and fighters do not access them, a third source said.

Business

MoU signed for start of Trans-Afghan railway feasibility studies

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(Last Updated On: February 20, 2024)

The Afghanistan Railway Authority (ARA) announced on Tuesday a memorandum of understanding (MoU) had been signed for feasibility studies on the Trans-Afghan railway project.

ARA said that the head of the organization, Bakhtur Rahman Sharafat, signed the MoU during his visit to Uzbekistan on Monday. The MoU was signed between Uzbek and UAE officials and Afghanistan.

ARA said once the feasibility study has been completed, results will be shared with various stakeholders including financial institutions, countries and businessmen from Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan.

Officials attending Monday’s meeting also decided a virtual meeting would be held on Wednesday with Qatari and Pakistani officials.

The Trans-Afghan railway once completed will connect Central Asia with South Asia.

Starting in Balkh’s Mazar-e-Sharif, the 647km line will pass through Samangan, Baghlan, Bamiyan, Maidan Wardak, Logar and Paktia provinces and on to Pakistan.

This project has been under discussion for many years. After regaining power, the Islamic Emirate approved the initial survey which was successfully completed by the technical teams of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan Railways.

ARA has meanwhile said it once again invites countries, financial organizations and businessmen to invest in Afghanistan railway projects.

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Import, export volumes total $7.5 billion in 1st nine months of this solar year

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(Last Updated On: February 19, 2024)

Afghanistan’s export and import volumes totaled $7.5 billion in the first nine months of this solar year – 1402, the National Statistics and Information Authority (NSIA) said on Monday.

NSIA said exports totaled $1.35 billion while imports amounted to $6.22 billion.

Last solar year, 1401, saw exports total $1.37 billion while imports totalled $5.12 billion.

NSIA said most exports went to Pakistan ($689.9 million), followed by India ($463 million) and the UAE ($32 million).

The most popular export item was dried fruit, which totaled $342.7 million. Medicinal plants, minerals and fresh fruit were second, third and fourth respectively.

The authority stated that the most imported items in the first nine months of this solar year came from Iran and totaled $1.31 billion.

Goods from Pakistan followed totaling $1.15 billion and then China with goods worth $1.14 billion.

Imports were dominated by fuel, petroleum and gas, at $1.1 billion, followed by machinery, vehicles and spare parts which totaled $691.9 million.

Other high volume goods included textiles, metals and metal products.

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Acting Minister of Mines and Petroleum meets Russian investor

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(Last Updated On: February 19, 2024)

Shahabuddin Delawar, Acting Minister of Mines and Petroleum, met with the Russian investor on Sunday in his office and discusses investment opportunities in Afghanistan.

The Ministry of Mines and Petroleum says that in this meeting, the Russian investor, while providing information about the company’s work experience and activities, said: “Our company has 120 years of work experience in the countries of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Tajikistan with advanced and modern equipment that we have, we are ready to cooperate and start work in Afghanistan.”

In this meeting, he also talked about the production of 150 megawatts of electricity from garbage and said that our company is ready to cooperate and work on solving the problem of garbage and generating electricity from it.

The Russian company also gave information about their facilities and equipment in the oil and gas sector and electricity generation from gas, expressed their interest in investing in the oil and gas sector of Afghanistan and requested the support and cooperation of the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum.

The Ministry of Mines and Petroleum stated that the acting minister welcomed their plans and ideas in the country’s oil and gas sectors and electricity generation from waste, adding: “Afghanistan enjoys overall security and there is a suitable environment for foreign businessmen to invest.”

According to the Acting Minister of Mines and Petroleum, businessmen can invest in a safe, transparent and corruption-free environment, and the leadership of the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum is also ready to cooperate in this field.

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