Strategic Provincial Roads in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan
The Strategic Provincial Roads Program in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan (SPR) continued USAID’s efforts to reconstruct vital roads in regions considered critical to the country’s development and the counterinsurgency objectives of the US and Afghan governments. The three-year, $269 million program was developed to rehabilitate multiple existing rural roads in the southern and eastern provinces to an international all weather standard, build the capacity of the private sector in road design and construction, and strengthen government institutions and communities to maintain the roads. SPR provided thousands of employment opportunities, increased the regional capacity of construction contractors and national staff, and improved the economic viability of rural communities. The improved roads are helping communities gain access to government services and agricultural markets, increasing regional integration.
IRD’s Strategy: IRD proposed an “Afghan first” strategy in order to increase the capacity of local firms to undertake the engineering, design, and construction work for this project and for the long term. This design incorporated lessons IRD has learned from its previous work in Iraq and Afghanistan: local subcontractors face fewer political and security issues in rural conflict areas. This strategy was implemented in conjunction with a “mentor-protégé program” that provided technical training to SPR subcontractors, engineers, and other local staff. Road construction was integrated with community outreach and capacity building (COCB), which facilitated acceptance of the project through dialogue, outreach, and a development project grant program. IRD provided the support structure for these functions, including management, quality control, and oversight.
What Was Achieved: Infrastructure: SPR increased capacity throughout the local construction market in design and construction, and through strengthening the skills needed for new businesses to survive, particularly project and financial management. Through on-the-job experience, local contractors became more viable, and leaders have emerged in the local market. SPR subcontractors and staff completed detailed design of 1,000 kilometers of roads, constructed or made substantial improvements to over 700 kilometers of roads (including 35 kilometers of tertiary roads built with community-based labor). Two major bridges and thousands of stone masonry culverts and causeways were completed, and road quality and safety were vastly improved.
Capacity Building: Several Afghan firms acquired the ability to design roads to international standards and gained significant experience in developing road profiles and sections, designing hydraulic structures, and using digital terrain modeling and industry-standard software. SPR staff gained experience in design review and subcontractor management. SPR subcontractors successfully mobilized in remote, high-risk locations to rehabilitate or improve roads according to design specifications. SPR also developed a mentor-protégé program to build the capacity of subcontractor road construction staff. The program expanded to include engineering staff in the construction department, field- and Kabul-based community outreach staff, and an internship program for university engineering students. SPR collaborated with and strengthened national institutions, especially those that form the backbone of the construction industry.
Community Stabilization: Conflict mitigation, community outreach, and capacity building through grants continued throughout the road construction process. In collaboration with local Afghan bodies called community development councils (CDCs), SPR community mobilizers helped communities conduct rapid assessments to identify development needs, create “wish lists” of most important priorities, and then apply for and administer grants to complete the projects. Where CDCs did not exist, SPR created nearly 300 community development groups to perform these functions. Nearly 160 grants worth over $7 million have been completed – benefiting nearly 400,000 people – and 70 grants directly addressed women’s priorities. SPR worked with the community groups to mitigate or resolve over 600 local disputes, and they obtained over 1,600 cooperation agreements from communities in support of the road construction. As a result of these community stabilization efforts, communities along SPR-improved roads report increased their trust of government, lower levels of conflict, and increased participation of women in decision-making.