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ADB Approves $100 Million Grant to Support Afghanistan’s COVID-19 Response

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(Last Updated On: December 3, 2020)

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) on Wednesday approved a $100 million grant to help the Government of Afghanistan respond to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the statement said.

“ADB reaffirms its full commitment to supporting Afghanistan in its fight against COVID-19 and reducing the adverse impact of the pandemic on the lives of Afghans and the economy,” said ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa. “The assistance will help strengthen the health system, expand social protection for the poor and vulnerable population while ensuring gender mainstreaming, and support macroeconomic stabilization and job creation in Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan’s economic outlook has deteriorated during the COVID-19 pandemic because of business lockdowns, a sharp drop in household incomes, and a downturn in regional trade and remittances. ADB forecasts Afghanistan’s gross domestic product (GDP) to contract by 5.0% this year. Nearly 250,000 micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), accounting for over 80% of nonagricultural employment, have been hit hard. The unemployment rate is projected to rise to 37.9% in 2020 from 23.9% in 2019. The budget deficit including grants has nearly tripled, reaching 3% of GDP in 2020, compared to 2019. Spikes in food prices due to disruptions in the food supply have increased the food insecurity risks.

According to the statement the national poverty rate is projected to reach up to 72% this year from 55% in 2017, with an additional 6 million people falling into poverty. A health emergency of such magnitude has aggravated the pressure on the country’s inadequate health care system, compounded by increasing transmission risks from internally displaced persons, returning migrants, and refugees.

To mitigate the adverse impacts of the pandemic, the government rolled out its comprehensive countercyclical pandemic response package of $633.9 million, comprising health, social protection, and macroeconomic stabilization measures. ADB’s COVID-19 Active Response and Expenditure Support (CARES) Program grant will support the delivery of the government’s response package, read the statement.

The program has several components. It will support the government in conducting a nationwide gender-sensitive public awareness campaign for COVID-19, scaling up the capacity of medical facilities, including gender-sensitive treatment facilities and the availability of medical supplies and equipment.

It will help the government extend its targeted social safety nets, including daily bread assistance to at least 310,000 poor households; water and electricity bill coverage for at least 350,000 households in Kabul, with priority given to women-headed households; coverage of over 130,000 old-age pensioners and their female heirs, including biometric registration; one-time cash transfers of 6,000 afghanis ($78) to at least 41,500 internally displaced persons and refugees; and remuneration packages for at least 32,570 disabled persons and the families of people killed in conflicts.

The program will also support the implementation of stabilization measures covering state-owned enterprises, job creation in the agriculture sector, and MSMEs. The MSME support will comprise tax exemptions, subsidized lending, vocational training, and market access.

The grant also features measures to promote good governance and anticorruption, including having a monitoring and evaluation specialist at the Ministry of Finance (MOF) to support program implementation and reporting, electronic tracking of fund flows at the MOF, and auditing of pandemic-related spending by the Supreme Audit Office, which are built into the assistance. ADB had earlier provided technical assistance to strengthen debt management and monitoring of fiscal risks, as well as project management capacity, procurement systems, and safeguards compliance.

The CARES Program is funded through the COVID-19 pandemic response option (CPRO) under ADB’s Countercyclical Support Facility. CPRO was established as part of ADB’s $20 billion expanded assistance for developing member countries’ COVID-19 response announced in April. Visit ADB’s website to learn more about its ongoing response.

This comes after in May, ADB approved a $40 million emergency assistance grant for Afghanistan. It supports the construction of 15 and rehabilitation of 5 hospitals and medical facilities, adding more than 1,100 new hospital beds; procurement of urgent medicines, medical supplies, and equipment; and training of at least 3,000 health workers, including 900 women, in COVID-19 surveillance, prevention, and treatment.

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Parliament rejects draft budget for second time

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(Last Updated On: January 16, 2021)

Members of the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House of Parliament) have rejected the proposed budget for the new fiscal year 1400 for the second time.

MPs said the second draft budget is also unbalanced and still does not address the issue of equal pay for government employees.

MPs said they will not approve the budget until the money has been allocated appropriately and that demands of the parliament regarding the equalizing of salaries are taken into account.

They said that the government also added two more articles to the draft budget which were not acceptable to them. 

MPs first rejected the draft budget on December 30 citing “serious problems” which they said hinged on the disproportionate allocation of money to projects and emergency codes. 

The draft budget was approved by the cabinet in November following adjustments in the Public Finance and Expenditure Management Regulation, a draft plan of hydrocarbons regulation; draft statute of Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (the Afghan power company); and the draft law on cadastre.

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‘Digital Silk Road’ on track as Afghanistan and Turkmenistan connect 

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(Last Updated On: January 16, 2021)

Thursday marked another milestone in Afghanistan’s modern history when President Ashraf Ghani inaugurated the new fiber optic connection between Turkmenistan and the commercial port of Aqina in Afghanistan’s Faryab province.

Within four months of having signed the memorandum of understanding with government the Afghan Wireless Communication Company (AWCC) had successfully completed the task of connecting the two neighboring countries. 

In a virtual address at the launch, Dr Ehsan Bayat, the founder and chairman of AWCC, said he was “delighted” to celebrate the company’s success in connecting Afghanistan with its friends in Turkmenistan – especially given the past year that has involved unprecedented challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic, which also impacted people’s ability to connect with each other across the globe. 

“When Afghan Wireless embarked on the journey to build Afghanistan’s largest nationwide fiber network, we did so with the goal of realizing President Ghani’s vision to transform the country into a hub of digital data connectivity for Central Asia. 

“Today marks an important milestone in the building of a digital silk road across the region with Afghanistan at its center; a road that will connect millions of Afghans to the digital economy.

He said the latest optical fiber connection, between Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, is the country’s fifth and sixth international border connections. Others include Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan. 

“From Mazar to Jalalabad, and from Kabul to Kandahar to Kunduz, communities across the country are benefiting from high-speed connectivity. And now our connection to Turkmenistan through Torghundi and Aqina will enable Herat and western cities to become Afghanistan’s next major bridge for digital transformation,” he said.

However, Bayat stated that the impact of AWCC’s project should not be measured in kilometers of fiber laid, or megabytes of data transmitted, or even money invested but instead, it should be measured by the industries revitalized, the local businesses boosted, the jobs created, the pace of economic development and the enhancement to critical services in health, education, commerce and finance.

“This project could not be delivered without Afghanistan and Turkmenistan working together. 

“Afghan Wireless’ optical fiber connection between the two countries that we are celebrating today is a powerful testament that when we work hand in hand with our neighbors, not only do we strengthen our countries individually, but we also strengthen our region together,” he said.

The Turkmenistan to Aqina cable has the capacity to transfer 2,500 megabits of the Internet and can therefore provide high quality and cheap Internet to Faryab province.

According to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, a fiber-optic network is the result of the rapid development of telecommunications and information technology, which has become an integral part of modern life.

The ministry states that along with the progression of technology and innovation, the shape and quality of tools have also changed to a great extent.

At the beginning of the invention of the telephone, copper cables were used to transmit information and sound, but today, with the advancement of technology and increasing human needs, these cables have been replaced by a new generation of signal conductors or fiber optics.

Because of the need for fast and cheap digital connectivity in the country, Government has already connected a total of 25 provinces in the country with the national fiber-optic network.

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Turkmen FM in Kabul to discuss bilateral cooperation

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(Last Updated On: January 8, 2021)

Turkmenistan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Raşit Meredow arrived in Kabul on Friday to discuss issues around bilateral cooperation with the Afghan officials.

In a statement released on Friday, the Afghan Ministry of Foreign stated that the Turkmen official received by Mirwais Nab, Deputy Minister Foreign Minister for Political Affairs at the Kabul’s Hamid Karzai Airport.

According to the statement, Meredow will meet with President Ashraf Ghani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar, and NSA Hamdullah Mohib to discuss cooperation agreements between the two countries.

The Turkmen official expected to discuss the inauguration of Akina to Andkhui Railway line project, Electrical Energy Project from Kerki – Andkhoi – Puli Khumri; and the Fiber Optic Cable line extending internet connection from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan.

Meadow would also sign several Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) with the Afghan officials, including an MoU on Political Consultation, an MoU on Agriculture Quarantine, an MoU on Security and Protocol, and an MoU on issues related to Gas and Oil, the statement concluded.

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