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World Bank freezes Afghan projects after Taliban ban girls from high school

An Afghan schoolgirl reads from her notebook while another unpacks her school bag at a house in Kabul
FILE PHOTO: An Afghan schoolgirl reads from her notebook while another unpacks her school bag at a home in Kabul, Afghanistan March 23, 2022. REUTERS/Charlotte Greenfield

March 29, 2022

By Andrea Shalal and Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The World Bank has approved four projects in Afghanistan worth $600 million.

The projects, to be funded from the newly designed Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund, were prepared for implementation by United Nations agencies to support projects in agriculture, education, health and livelihoods.

But the bank’s guidelines require that all ARTF-funded activities support access to women and girls in Afghanistan — and equality of services — the bank said, citing its deep concerns about the Taliban’s ban on girls attending high school to visit.

As a result, the bank said the four projects will only be presented to ARTF donors for approval “when the World Bank and international partners have a better understanding of the situation and are confident that the projects’ goals can be achieved.” It was initially not clear when this could be the case.

US officials canceled scheduled meetings in Doha with the Taliban last week over the decision to keep girls out of secondary school.

The World Bank Board on March 1 approved a plan to use more than $1 billion from the ARTF fund to fund much-needed education, agriculture, health and family programs that bypass sanctioned Taliban authorities and the Disbursing money through UN agencies and aid groups.

The ARTF was frozen in August when the Taliban seized power as US-led international forces withdrew after 20 years of war.

Foreign governments also halted financial aid, which accounted for over 70% of government spending, hastening the country’s economic collapse.

In agreeing to release ARTF funds to new projects to be implemented by UN agencies, the World Bank had stated that it expected a “strong focus on ensuring girls and women participate and benefit from support”.

The Taliban have won the rights of women over the past two decades, including restricting their work and restricting their travel unless accompanied by a close male relative. Most girls were also barred from attending school after seventh grade.

But Taliban leaders had said all girls would be allowed to return to classrooms later this month.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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Bobby Allyn

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