WASHINGTON - The United States on Wednesday honored six development projects for helping some of the world's most politically fragile countries or poorest people, including a railway in Afghanistan and basic health and water services in Yemen.
The projects, all funded by one of the major development banks, range from helping rice farmers in West Africa to dealing with pollution in Mongolia. The awards recognize “exceptional” development impact and give insight into the United States' priorities in overseas aid, including its focus on fragile states and food security.
“When you consider recent global events, it is clear that we must continue to support international financial institutions like those that we are honoring today,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in announcing the Development Impact Honors.
The railroad in Afghanistan, funded by the Asian Development Bank and completed in 2011, was the country's first rail link in almost a century and was meant to boost the fragile state's economy, and also help supply NATO troops there and provide aid.
The railroad covers a 75 km (50 mile) stretch of single track that links Afghanistan's main city in the north, Mazar-i-Sharif, to Uzbekistan, which serves as the gateway for many of Afghanistan's imports.
“Fragile states pose concerns of peace and security for both their people and beyond their borders,” said Marisa Lago, Treasury's assistant secretary for international markets and development affairs. “So when we think about why the U.S. government engages in development - we recognize the strong benefits for our national security.”
Treasury said the railroad has provided about 1,200 local jobs so far, helped boost the area's economic growth, lowered the price of goods, and reduced poverty.
Treasury chose the projects based on how much they improved the lives of the people in the country, followed environmental and social standards and were innovative, among other criteria. All the projects had to have been completed in the last seven years to be eligible.
In Yemen, dealing with crises including political turmoil, deep poverty and separatists, the World Bank provided funding and training for several community-driven projects that hired local Yemenis to offer better health and water services and vocational training, and also built new schools and a more durable road.
“While the state may be fragile, there are communities, so we're looking for the strength in the community,” Lago said, adding that it was important to tailor each project to the local community's needs.
The project follows the World Bank's model of focusing on community-driven development in uncertain environments, similar to its initial foray into Myanmar.
Other U.S.-honored projects include a program that enables West African farmers to grow more durable rice with a higher protein content, a wind farm project in Mongolia, microfinance to small-scale farmers in Bangladesh, and training for low-income youth in Brazil in job skills and “soft skills” like self-esteem and civic responsibility.