National Solidarity Program: Infrastructure in Afghanistan
The first step to helping those in need is having a supportive government enforcing small-scale changes. The National Solidarity Program (NSP) located in Afghanistan is the rehabilitation and development program for rural parts of the nation. It has supported the rights and needs of 18 million people and has helped to construct infrastructure, meet basic community needs, administer democracy and save lives.

The NSP is a program working for the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD). It has a set budget of $2.6 billion for the years between 2003 and 2016.

The Nangarhar Province has demonstrated resiliency thanks to NSP. Since NSP’s installation in 2003, it has crated 32,000 Community Development Councils (CDCs) within 36 districts of each province in Afghanistan. It has financed 65,000 projects.

In 2013, NSP was known as the largest development program in Afghanistan. Evaluations have proven that NSP advances access to education, basic utilities, health care and counseling, specifically for women. NSP has created a platform for governance, democratic processes and female participation in rural villages.

The program was based on the hopes that villages could improve themselves with two approaches. NSP aimed to create gender-balanced CDCs and to fund villages through family grants. These grants were meant to enhance village projects managed by CDCs along with public input.

More than 250,000 families were provided technical help thanks to 806 CDCs in just four provinces. Effort to improve development has affected 141,050 people.

Some projects underway in the Nangarhar Province include digging wells, creating sewing jobs for women, building sewer drains and constructing buildings for community meetings. One function of the CDC is to take village complaints and design resolutions. Since residents and neighbors to villages find it to be an effective and sustainable practice, they feel safe to make home in the more promising region.

In 2009, there were 275 families in Ghondi-e-Ahmadzai village. There are now 1,200 people living in the village.

The program has increased school attendance and the quality of education for girls. Health institutes have had a rise of child doctors, prenatal visits and curability of preventable disease with thanks to NSP. The program has also managed to increase access to clean water and sanitation.

Funding from World Bank, Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund and Japan Social Development Fund are supporting the program. Haji Zumarai leads the CDC in Ghondi-e-Ahmadzai village. He’s very grateful for the $50,000 grant funding village development efforts since 2009.

Partners of NSP have helped to improve water and sanitation. NSP’s 31 facilitating partners work within CDCs to contrive 86 thousand small-scale reconstruction and development projects. In addition, they maintain rural roads, irrigation, energy supply, health facilities and education.

BRAC is one facilitation partner of MRRD that helps construct infrastructure outside NSP. It builds systems, latrines, irrigation canals, micro-hydroelectric planets, protection walls, roads, bridges and schools.

It’s partnership with NSP is creating a self-sustainable rural Afghanistan. BRAC encourages democracy by helping to supervise and facilitate CDCs in places like Ghondi-e-Ahmadzai. It prioritizes infrastructure capabilities, aids with project overhaul and oversees transparency efforts.

NSP has bettered small-scale efforts for many by focusing on critical and essential needs in rural villages. In Sayed Ahmad Ghazi Village of the Kabul Province, NSP constructed clinics that are saving lives. MRRD granted $50,000 in funding. Local villages helped by producing $14,000.

Under Dr. Mastorah Ahmadi, two women and one man help oversee 50 patients a day. This has benefited 1,400 families. Children are receiving vaccinations and the workers are quickly treating preventable diseases.

Communities continue to prosper with these programs that minimize the hazardous implications of living in rural Afghanistan. Soon rural living will safe and readily sustainable. The Ghondi-e-Ahmadzai village stands as an example of success when community-focused programs like NSP work intricately with members and leaders.

Katie Groe

Sources: Bakhtar News, World Bank 1, Wadsam, World Bank 2, World Bank 3, BRAC
Photo: Worldbank

Reawakening the global health problem of unclean, polluted drinking water, rural Asian villages have been plagued with arsenic-ridden water. Most of these rural villages are near mines which leak and pollute local water sources with the carcinogen arsenic. In the past decade, the Heshan village in China has seen nearly 20 percent of the population get cancer from the polluted water.

The arsenic has been traced back to runoff and residue from a local mine that was closed in 2011. The 190 living cancer patients have petitioned the local governments for monetary compensation and aid, but the $1,600 reimbursement is insufficient for even one round of chemotherapy or radiation. For many of these poor rural villagers, the cancer diagnosis from arsenic poisoning is nothing less than a death sentence because of the unaffordable cost of treatment.

Tests of the ground water have resulted in arsenic amounts 15 times the safe amount of arsenic. The water is so toxic that many of the agricultural staples are not viable in the region, stripping these people of their livelihood and reinforcing the cycle of poverty in the area.

Similar cases have been reported throughout China and India. With water security being of the utmost importance, cancer patterns have sprung up around villages with arsenic in the water. Local medical professionals have denied the correlation between the high arsenic levels and the cancer hotspots, despite the fact that arsenic has been recognized by many health institutions as a known carcinogen.

The lack of transparency between health officials and the villagers coupled with insufficient cleaning methods has resorted in the outbreaks of cancer caused by arsenic. The toxicity of the element, both for humans and agriculture, has stunted the regional economies and has restricted the employment pool. A needless tragedy, the arsenic-laden drinking waters have destroyed families and the economies of the rural villages afflicted by the toxic water.

– Kristin Ronzi

Sources: American Cancer Society, Reuters, Times of India
Photo: Trip Advisor

Spring is upon us but in many places April showers don’t necessarily bring the hope of May flowers, instead they promise environmental disaster and damage to surrounding communities.

Every year, floods ravage Haiti’s countryside, injuring, displacing, and economically crippling many of its rural villages and townships. Rainfall, though necessary for agriculture in the hot Caribbean nation is more feared than it is welcomed these days. Due to widespread deforestation, the soil around riverbanks has eroded, the land has become arid, and there is nothing to anchor the foothills and prevent devastating mudslides.

Between 1954 and 1984 alone, nearly 90% of Haiti’s once abundant rainforests were depleted. An estimated 2% of what was once there remains today, and even that is at risk. Without tree cover or a natural means to replenish the soil with nutrients, the mountain region is now agriculturally useless, only perpetuating a cycle of poverty and harmful environmental practices.

Deforestation has been made significantly more prevalent by corrupt business practices and irresponsible regulations. Under the abusive dictatorships of Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier, many Haitians was forced to rely on the production of charcoal for subsistence, turning to the harvesting and burning of trees to supplement widespread unemployment. Charcoal is now, unfortunately, one of Haiti’s most thriving markets.

Additionally, like other developing nations, economic instability and unaffordable trade options have forced millions of Haiti’s inhabitants to rely on this “woody biomass” for fuel.  More viable options of electricity, petroleum, and even kerosene, though also not earth friendly, are less encroaching on the communities themselves. However they are nearly unattainable in many areas.

In more recent years, illegal logging, price negotiations, structural trade agreements, and the seizure of property rights from outside actors has also contributed to an economic environment that leaves many Haitians without much choice but to contribute to cutting down the forests.

For example, Swine Flu paranoia in the 80’s essentially wiped out Haiti’s once successful pork market. This forced pork farmers to annihilate their own acclimatized pigs and replace them with the more delicate North American variety which was too expensive to keep. This paved the way for Reagan’s “American Plan” for the country, which implemented a weak export economy of cheaply and inhumanely manufactured goods. With such bleak options, charcoal and deforestation are increasingly chosen out of necessity.

Journalist and political analyst Amy Wilentz states, “You can read about deforestation and its affects in the books and pamphlets written by these experts, and then you can read about it in the faces and bodies of Haitian peasants…. The summation of a story of dry earth, of the need for sustenance and comfort, of crops that are impossible to raise, even with the hardest and most grueling work, of rain that never falls, of food that just isn’t there.”

People continue to fight back, such as Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, who is a renowned in the world of environmental activism for his work in Haiti. After receiving a formal education in agronomy, he went on to found the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) in 1973 with the expressed goal of establishing principles of sustainable agriculture. The Movement has been effective in the fight against deforestation and other contributions to soil erosion.

His life of activism has not been without contention though. Before winning the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2005, he suffered multiple assassination attempts, death threats, and periods of forced exile. His outspokenness regarding forest protection and his role in sparking political dissent made him highly targeted. Still, he leaves an unwavering legacy of land protection in a previously colonized nation, and the MPP continues to be a strong political force.

Deforestation’s effect has been horrible, for the people, the infrastructure, and the very landscape of Haiti, which has seen its fair share of economic and political storms over the past half century. However, scientific awareness, increased environmental consciousness, and a climate of political activism provide hope that Haiti’s rainy season will come to an end.

— Stefanie Doucette

Sources: The Energy Journal 1, The Energy Journal 2, The Ecological Society of America, The World Today, The Journal of Developing Areas, Nathan C. McClintock, The Rainy Season