Citizens in Herat engage with stakeholders to improve a vital transport link, Afghanistan

Jun 2, 2015

Since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, road reconstruction has been a major development priority in Afghanistan. In 2001, Afghanistan had just 50km of paved roads, which explains why road reconstruction has absorbed the second highest amount of aid expenditure in the country since 2001.

In 2014, the Herat Municipality provided funding to renovate and asphalt an unpaved feeder road, which connects to a highway in a densely populated part of the Khaja Ansar district, in Herat city. The road was full of holes and during the winter rain made the road almost unusable. As well as being dangerous to use, the road’s defects also caused traffic problems, which impeded local resident’s ability to access vital services and economic and trade links.

Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA) is an NGO committed to empowering communities to monitor infrastructure projects and hold authorities accountable to improve service delivery for Afghan citizens. Using Integrity Action’s Community Integrity Building (CIB) approach enabled IWA to train two local residents of Khaja Ansar as community monitors. IWA’s training enables monitors to analyse project documents, conduct project site visits to compare the actual project to the documents, take photos of the project, conduct beneficiary surveys, verify findings as well as engage with stakeholders such as contractors and local government to fix problems.

In February 2014, the road renovation work began. In April, monitors noticed that the implementing agency had been using poor quality gravel to pave the road and had also not been layering the road correctly. Citizens in Herat were being denied their right to a quality vital public service. The road could be easily damaged when it was finished, seriously undermining efforts to make the road safer, as well as attempts to improve transport and trade links in Herat.

Accompanied by IWA staff, the monitors approached the implementing agency. They met with the engineers in charge of renovating the road. The engineers acknowledged the problems with the gravel and the layering of the road which the monitors had identified. However, despite the efforts of the monitors to engage with the implementing agency no action was taken to resolve the problems.

IWA and the monitors then decided to try another tactic. To build public support to use as leverage they organised a meeting with the Community Development Committee (CDC) in Khaja Ansar, a local organisation made up of local leaders, youth groups, and women’s groups. After sharing the details about the problems with the project they secured a pledge from the CDC to support their efforts to bring about changes needed to improve the project.

In May, IWA and the CDC organised a meeting with the mayor of Herat and engineers from the Herat municipality technical department. During the meeting the CDC members, the monitors and IWA staff shared the problems with the road reconstruction. The municipality then organised a visit to the road project site for engineers from the technical department, who were accompanied by CDC members, IWA monitors and staff. During the visit the municipality engineers were shown how poor quality gravel was being used and how the road was being layered incorrectly. The municipality immediately ordered the implementing agency to halt the reconstruction work.

The very next day the municipality arranged a meeting with the implementing agency’s engineers, also attended by CDC members, IWA staff and monitors as well as municipality engineers. The engineers from the technical department and the CDC members discussed the renovation work’s problems with the engineers from the implementing agency. The engineers from the implementing agency acknowledged the problems with the renovation. The municipality officials then instructed them to redo the renovation works using good quality gravel and to layer the road correctly to ensure that it would not be damaged easily.

The implementing agency immediately began rebuilding the road with good quality gravel and layering it correctly. The road renovation was completed in June 2014 with good quality gravel and layered in the correct way. Today, thanks to IWA’s intervention, residents in Khaja Ansar have access to a quality road built properly with the correct materials, which will not be easily damaged. As a result citizen’s access to vital public services, trade routes and economic links have been secured. IWA’s work in Herat enabled local residents to identify problems with the renovation works, and then gain community support, which built a strong case for sufficient leverage which helped to engage with the Herat municipality, and ultimately force the implementing agency to improve the renovation works. This allowed citizens in Herat to take the lead in securing improvements in service delivery and empowered them to bring about an important change to improve lives.

Integrity Watch Afghanistan have been an Integrity Action partner since 2006. During this time they have trained 1469 people as community monitors. The monitors have overseen 859 projects and their interventions have led to the resolution of 82% of identified problems. In 2015 IWA and the community members’ monitoring and constructive engagement has improved services for around 400,000 people