Afghan - Tajik border Region
North Eastern Afghanistan is one of the poorest and most underdeveloped regions in the country. According to the UNDP, literacy rates in Badakhshan, with an estimated population of about 900,000, are just 38% for males and 22% for females. 80% of the population lives below the poverty line.
The lack of crucial infrastructure in many areas of North Eastern Afghanistan, especially in Badakshan, means that many areas are isolated both from their district centres and from provincial capitals. Where roads do exist, they are often unsurfaced and some sections are severely damaged. As a result, access to health facilities and schools and opportunities for economic expansion and/or diversification are extremely limited. Harsh climatic conditions further complicate the situation, and especially in winter certain villages and towns are cut off.
Just across the Northern Afghan border, Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) is the poorest region in Tajikistan. Despite its proximity to Afghanistan, it is generally stable and peaceful, yet 48% of the population lives below the poverty line. Economic opportunities are so scarce that more than 60% of households have at least one family member who has migrated outside GBAO, and its economy depends heavily on money sent back from outside the country, primarily from Russia. A steep decline in the quantity and quality of medical qualifications, coupled with severe under-funding of the health sector, has forced individuals and their families in GBAO to shoulder the primary financial burden of accessing health care services. During a succession of dramatic winter energy crises in the 1990s, when the 250,000 residents of GBAO faced sub-freezing temperatures, some 70% of the region's tree cover was stripped, including fruit trees and woods that had been planted for the construction industry. This deprived the area of vital natural resources and additional means of development. Like Northern Afghanistan, it is highly susceptible to natural disasters, with frequent flooding, earthquakes and rockslides. A recent increase in the activities of extremists and opposition groups in the Rasht Valley along the border with Afghanistan underscores the fragility and vulnerability of the area, the potential for regional contagion, and the need for a sustainable approach to cross-border development.
The development of the cross border infrastructure will boost the long-term social and economic development of the two adjacent areas of GBAO and North Eastern Afghanistan by enabling them to benefit from sustainable, cross-regional investment in both physical and social infrastructure.