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Tajik and Afghan officials Inaugurate Vanj Bridge Built by AKDN as Part of Cross-border Initiatives


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Khumrogi, Vanj District, Tajikistan, 16 August 2011 - The Vanj Bridge, the fourth in a series of bridges funded by the Aga Khan Development Network, was inaugurated today by Tajikistan’s President H.E. Emomali Rahmon. The bridge connects Tajikistan’s Vanj District with Mohi-May Vulusvoli in Afghanistan and is expected to enhance cross-border humanitarian assistance delivery, infrastructure development, socio-economic exchange, tourism and trade between the two countries.

The Vanj Bridge ceremony marks nearly a decade since the opening of the first of the bridges nearly a decade ago, and commemorates the longstanding partnership between the Republic of Tajikistan and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, as well as their continued commitment to cross-border collaboration.

Describing the project as “the best bridge built yet between the two countries on the River Pyanj,” President Rahmon noted that the bridge was built within the framework of the agreement between the Governments of Tajikistan and Afghanistan and the Aga Khan Development Network. “We will not withhold any assistance, cooperation and fraternal help for the sake of stability in Afghanistan and its economic development,” President Rahmon commented. “Peace, tranquility and happiness in Afghanistan is peace and tranquility in Tajikistan and all of Central Asia.”

Afghanistan’s Minister of Borders and Tribal Affairs H.E. Asadullah Khalid also emphasised the importance of cross-border relations in his comments and thanked His Highness the Aga Khan and the Government of Tajikistan for their continued support for the region.

The Vanj Bridge spans 216 metres across the Pyanj River, making it the longest cross-border suspension bridge yet developed, and will support over 3,000 commercial and passenger crossings per year. The US$2.6 million bridge project was funded by the Aga Khan Foundation in Tajikistan and employed 400 local Tajiks and Afghans over the course of nearly four years to completion.

In addition to the bridge itself, the Vanj project yielded several development works such as the construction of roads leading to the bridge on either side of the Pyanj, which will provide better access to electricity and water. A cross-border market, customs center and other border facilities, under development with the support of the Government of Germany through a US$428,000 grant from Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW), will offer the local population renewed access to competitively priced goods as well as a forum for intercultural exchange. The banks of the river have also been strengthened and protected. These projects are only an example of the development initiatives that will be supported by the opening of the Vanj Bridge.

In his comments at the ceremony, AKDN Resident Representative Munir Merali acknowledged the valuable partnerships that made the project possible. “These achievements are the efforts of many including our external funding partners and the support of both the Governments of Tajikistan and Afghanistan,” he said.

Dr. Pascal Richter, the Deputy Head of Mission of the German Embassy in Tajikistan, represented the Government of Germany at the event. “The Vanj Bridge and the cross-border market are visible representations of the commitment of the Government of Germany and the European Union to bringing stability and development to these cross-border regions,” he said. “The peoples of the two Badakhshans have incredible potential - in particular, in the role of women which is something to be admired and emulated by other societies.”

The Vanj Bridge joins three other bridges at Darwaz, Tem, and Ishkashim as part of the Aga Khan Development Network’s multi-sector cross-border development strategy. Since 2002, the bridges have served as the primary connection between Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan Oblast and Afghanistan’s Badakhshan Province. These highly isolated regions face numerous geographic, cultural and economic challenges, which the AKDN’s cross-border initiatives aim to mitigate. The bridges, including a fifth currently under development at Shurobod, serve as key conduits for humanitarian assistance, commerce and socio-cultural exchange opportunities.

The bridges and markets are but one feature of the AKDN’s overall cross-border development strategy, which consists of many projects. The University of Central Asia, an AKDN partner, recently graduated 60 Afghan scholarship students who studied IT, accounting and English at UCA’s School for Professional and Continuing Education (SPCE) in Khorog, and who will now return to Afghanistan equipped with the skills and qualifications to make a positive impact on their communities. The AKDN-affiliated electricity company PamirEnergy, based just outside of Khorog, has been extending electricity to Afghan Badakhshan for three years, and currently provides over 1,000 Afghan households with affordable power with plans to expand supply even further in Afghanistan. Through its cross-border health programme, Aga Khan Health Services has provided emergency, routine and surgical care and vaccinations to thousands of residents of Afghan Badakhshan in addition to rehabilitating the hospital in Faizabad, Afghanistan. Still more AKDN agencies are working to improve the lives of the residents of Tajik and Afghan Badakhshan.

In his speech, President Rahmon also mentioned another cross-border collaboration between the Government of Tajikistan and the Aga Khan Development Network. "God willing, time will come when Afghanistan's entire northern region will be provided with cheap electricity after we build the Sanobod hydroelectric power plant,” he said, referring to an AKDN-supported HPP currently under development. “If there is electricity there will be prosperity, development and a high level of living standards.”

The ceremony was also attended by Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Tajikistan H.E. Abdulgafor Orzu, the Chairman of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast H.E. Qodiri Qosim and the Governor of Afghan Badakhshan H.E. Shah Waliullah Adib, representing one step further toward sustainable, community-based development in these isolated but culturally vibrant regions.

For further information please contact:
Bijan Teja
Research Analyst
Aga Khan Development Network
8-10 Gani Abdullo Street, Dushanbe, Tajikistan
Mobile: +992 93 500-82-93
E-mail: bijan.teja@akdn.org  

Hokimsho Zulfiqorov
Senior Program Officer, Communication and Resource Mobilization
Aga Khan Foundation Tajikistan
4th floor, 137 Rudaki Avenue, Dushanbe, Tajikistan
E-mail: hokimsho.zulfiqorov@akdn.org  
Mobile: +992 93 435-75-12


NOTES

Aga Khan Development Network
The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), which was founded by His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims, is a group of private, non-denominational development agencies working to empower communities and individuals to improve living conditions and opportunities, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East. The Network’s nine development agencies focus on social, cultural and economic development for all citizens, regardless of gender, origin or religion. The AKDN’s underlying ethic is compassion for the vulnerable in society. Its annual budget for philanthropic activity is in excess of US$ 600 million.

AKDN-Tajikistan Cross-Border Programme
In recent years, AKDN Tajikistan has extended its programmatic presence to include cross-border initiatives that aim to bring the neighboring Badakhshan-Badakhshan regions of Tajikistan and Afghanistan closer after decades of separation and isolation. The cross-border strategy engages many AKDN agencies and external partners across several sectors and is the product of collaboration between the AKDN and the Governments of Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

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