WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The World Bank has resumed work on three projects in Afghanistan focused on health, agriculture and livelihoods, but will maintain a hold on some $150 million for education projects, two sources familiar with the decision said Tuesday.
The multilateral development bank had put all four projects, valued at around $600 million, on hold in late March, citing its deep concerns over the Taliban’s ban on girls attending public high school.
Group of Seven partners and other major donors to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) will meet to discuss the country’s mounting economic and food security problems on Friday during the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the U.S. Treasury announced on Monday.
Some multilateral organizations, including the IMF, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Islamic Development Bank, will also take part, one of the sources said.
When it halted work on the four programs, the World Bank noted that its policies required all ARTF-financed activities to support access to – and equity of services for – women and girls in Afghanistan.
Officials decided to “resume preparations” for the three non-education projects, valued at around $450 million, given the deepening economic crisis in Afghanistan worsened by rising food and energy prices triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine, one of the sources said.
Russia calls its actions “a special military operation.”
The World Bank last week issued a dire outlook for Afghanistan’s economy, noting that per capita income had fallen by over a third in the last four months of 2021 following the seizure of power by the Islamist Taliban as U.S.-led foreign forces withdrew.
It said around 37% of Afghan households did not have enough money to cover food while 33% could afford food but nothing more.
When it agreed to free up ARTF funds for new projects to be implemented by U.N. agencies, the World Bank had stipulated that it expected a “strong focus on ensuring that girls and women participate and benefit from the support.”
The Taliban has unraveled gains in rights made by women during the last two decades, including restricting them from working and limiting their travel unless accompanied by a close male relative. Most girls were also barred from going to public school beyond seventh grade.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Jonathan Landay, Editing by William Maclean)