During a post-conflict phase in which rapid delivery of a "peace dividend" is critical to establish or maintain the credibility of the new government, the challenge is to
- Generate employment and rehabilitate infrastructure in rural areas devastated by severe drought and two decades of conflict, and
- Strengthen local governance to foster rule of law.
- The National Solidarity Program (NSP) is a massive effort by the government to reach rural communities across Afghanistan and address their needs using participatory involvement.
- Implemented by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development through an extensive network of Facilitating Partner organizations (mostly NGOs), the NSP was originally a component of the IDA-financed Emergency Community Empowerment & Public Works Project launched in 2002. It then became a national priority program under Afghanistan's development framework and has grown into the government's flagship rural development program.
- Elected village-level Community Development Councils (CDCs), in which women play a key role, reach consensus on development priorities, develop investment proposals and use grants and local labor to meet local needs.
About 17 million rural people in all 34 of Afghanistan's provinces have benefited from improved water and roads and from other small infrastructure projects.
- As of August 8, 2009, nearly 22,000 CDCs had been elected and over 20,000 had received grants for over 50,000 community projects, of which approximately 31,000 are complete.
- New roads and bridges link once isolated villages to each other and markets; irrigation is increasing cultivated area and improving agricultural yields; energy from grid extensions and renewable resources such as hydro and solar power reaches villages for the first time in history; village water pumps save women and children numerous hours of daily labor; and new schools give thousands of children—boys and girls alike—the opportunity for basic education.
- Economic analysis of sample NSP subprojects shows overall economic rates of return of 18.9 percent across four sampled sectors.
- Investments in rural infrastructure have boosted agriculture, promoted small-enterprise development, and opened access to price information, education, health care and communications.
- More than 80 percent of labor for these efforts comes from the communities themselves, generating wages for the poor and keeping costs low. Community involvement carries the added bonus of creating stronger ownership incentives to provide appropriate maintenance.
- Social mobilization has increased trust in government, empowered people including women, strengthened democratic culture at the community level, built social cohesion and promoted conflict resolution.
- The NSP was envisioned by the new Afghan leadership after the fall of the Taliban. To help put it into action, IDA drew on its experience designing successful community-driven development projects elsewhere such as the Kecamatan program in Indonesia.
- An initial IDA grant (under the IDA Emergency Community Empowerment & Public Works Project) funded a US$27 million community empowerment component that paved the way for the NSP.
- Since then, the NSP has received an additional US$940 million from IDA financing (38 percent), the World Bank–administered Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (55 percent), and other bilateral donors.
- CDCs need to be established in 9,000 uncovered villages to ensure national coverage by NSP. This poses a challenge since approximately half of these villages are in less secure areas. The program will also need significantly more financing to achieve full coverage.
- Over 6,000 communities have fully utilized their first round of NSP block grants. It is important for the Government of Afghanistan to continue engaging these communities to avoid eroding the trust built through the NSP thus far. The program’s next phase is being designed and will include another round of block grants to communities as well as further capacity building to make CDCs sustainable in the long run.