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In Afghanistan, paving the way to a brighter future

After more than two decades of war, road- and bridge-building has become an essential part of Afghanistan's reconstruction. The ILO Crisis Response and Reconstruction Programme is using labour-based methods to fix not only the streets in Kabul, but also pave the way to long-term job creation and decent work.

Article | 15 December 2003

KABUL (ILO Online) - In Afghanistan's capital, steps towards development are starting to rise up from the dusty streets. Under the "National Emergency Employment Programme" (NEEP), the ILO is helping Afghanistan develop a massive new infrastructure programme that over the next two years will build effective management, planning and monitoring structures for the country, literally one stone at a time…

ILO crisis response and reconstruction experts succeeded in persuading officials from the World Bank, the European Union and several bilateral donors that the new Afghan infrastructure needed to be developed with strategies leading towards employment creation. NEEP is now worth over 200 million US dollars.

According to Bas Athmer, ILO Chief Technical Advisor in Afghanistan, and NEEP coordinator*, the new programme puts employment creation and traditional working methods at the heart of so-called "labour-based" reconstruction efforts.

"We cannot pave the road to a better future without human capital", says Athmer. "Over the past 25 years, the ILO has proven that, with the same amount of financial input, labour-based methods generate two to four times the number of jobs created by capital intensive, equipment-based methods."

Moreover, experience shows that traditional construction methods are more practical, and more effectively use local skills. Says Athmer, "the ILO has proposed using cobble stones for repaving the streets in Kabul. Stones are easy to find in Afghanistan and are more durable than graveling or even asphalt. The same principle applies for walls to stabilize roads or embankments. There is no need to use concrete when the same result can be obtained with simple stones."

"The high-tech approach does not always pay when people need a job to live decently".

Quality roads to quality jobs

The ILO team in Afghanistan will establish new standards for construction and employment in the public works sector. "It is relatively easy to rebuild a road by pulling people off the streets and giving them shovels and hammers," says Athmer. "The difficult part comes if you expect that the same road can be opened to traffic within six months. A quality control system and viable methods of contracting and sub-contracting public works will be essential."

The quality of the road is important, but for the ILO, ensuring the quality of jobs is just as important. Working and living conditions will only improve if decent work and respect for labour standards emerge as part of a long-term strategy for creating jobs. Following the success of the ILO-funded start-up emergency employment programme, NEEP intends to start a development plan that applies technology and solutions to employment creation with lasting effects.

Social protection for all workers is a priority, and special attention will be given to employment opportunities for vulnerable and deprived groups. Women will also be offered jobs in the reconstruction of public infrastructure. "This is not an easy task", says Athmer, "but practical solutions can be found to overcome cultural sensitivities. If necessary, we will make provision for women, including the many widows in this country, to work in separate compounds and bring materials and tools to them."

NEEP aims to lay the basis for a new generation of managers and information technology experts. Developing technical and managerial capability, the programme is designed to promote sustainable growth from within the country.

The greatest advantage of the labour-based methods proposed by the ILO will be the creation of regular jobs, especially for unskilled workers. But the aims of NEEP go beyond that. For Afghanistan, the empowerment of individuals and communities through work is a vital step on the way to building peace, fostering social cohesion, reactivating local economies and opening new markets.

For further information on the ILO Crisis Response and Reconstruction Programme, please visit:, phone: +4122/799-6853, or e-mail:

* Bas Athmer was interviewed by Donato Kiniger-Passigli of the ILO Crisis Response and Reconstruction Programme.