Kabul : Work will soon start on building the last remaining section of Afghanistan’s “Ring Road” highway, which loops the country and connects its cities, after the Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved a new $176 million grant.
Completion of the road network is essential for Afghanistan’s desperately needed economic growth.
The international community has already spent about $2 billion rebuilding roads and the only section of the 3000-kilometer Ring Road’s construction remaining to be funded is a 193 kilometer stretch between the western towns of Bala Murghab and Amalick.
While ADB’s grant will finance a 143 kilometer section from Bala Murghab to Leman, the Islamic Development Bank and the Saudi Fund will co-finance the remaining 50 kilometer section from Leman to Amalick.
“The Ring Road is the backbone of Afghanistan’s transport network and its completion will be a major milestone in the international nation-building effort,” said Mr. Juan Miranda, Director General of ADB’s Central and West Asia Department.
The new all-weather road will link northern Afghanistan with the country’s western region. It will cut travel times between the country’s northeast and southwest by three to five hours. This will lead to significantly lower transport costs, not only domestically but also between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea.
Afghanistan lies at a crossroads of ancient trade routes between Europe and eastern and southern Asia. Strands of the so-called Silk Road pass through the country.
Completion of the Ring Road will allow travelers from the capital, Kabul, wishing to reach the western city of Herat, near the Iranian border, to travel via a northern route, rather than through the southern city of Kandahar.
Local communities near the new road will be encouraged to participate in its construction and maintenance to ensure they immediately benefit from the project.
In addition to ADB’s $176 million grant, Afghanistan’s Government is contributing $4 million toward the construction. Part of the total will also be used for the ongoing refurbishment of another part of the Ring Road, between the northwestern towns of Andkhoy and Qaisar, while some of the funds will be used for general road maintenance elsewhere.
With the new grant, ADB will have contributed about $600 million to reconstructing roads in Afghanistan.
“The amount of traffic using the new routes is already much higher than expected, highlighting their urgent need,” Mr. Miranda said.
Progress has also been made in connecting Afghanistan with its neighbors. A month ago, a new bridge across the Pyanj River in northern Afghanistan provided the first road link with neighboring Tajikistan.
Since resuming operations in Afghanistan in 2001, ADB has approved more than $1 billion in assistance, focusing not only on roads but also on building and rehabilitating power transmission lines, irrigation infrastructure, and on governance and capacity building.