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Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development Completes Visit to U.S., Brazil

Afghanistan's Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development Mohammad Ehsan Zia concluded an official visit to Washington, D.C. and Brasilia this week after holding a series of meetings with senior U.S. officials of the Obama administration and senior ranking members of Congress. In his visit to Washington, Minister Zia offered the latest news of progress in rural development for Afghanistan while citing the challenges the country continues to face on its path to economic prosperity. While in Brazil, Minister Zia discussed technical cooperation with his counterparts in the Ministry of Agriculture.

In Washington Minister Zia highlighted in particular key national priority programs that are in dire need of additional funding and support, including the National Solidarity Program (NSP), National Rural Access Program (NRAP) and the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Program (AREDP).

Minister Zia held two public speaking events at the Aspen Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), where he engaged in an insightful discussion with the U.S. public on the challenges that faces the country in the coming months ahead. "Eighty percent of our population live in rural areas, and it is they who face ninety percent of the burden of problems that face the country," said Minister Zia. "NSP has been the most successful program for bringing development to unstable and insecure regions like the South thus far."

The NSP is often cited as one of Afghanistan's most succesful programs. In recent years it has funded 46,000 small-scale development projects in 22,000 villages throughout Afghanistan. Development needs are identified and projects implemented by locally elected councils, ensuring ownership and accountability. Overall, the NSP currently faces a budget shortfall of $300 million for this year with a total budget of $790 million needed for full national coverage of the program.

Minister Zia met with key members of the U.S. Congress who have continuously supported the NSP. He held detailed discussions about the NSP with members of the House and Senate Subcommittees on State and Foreign Operations, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the House Afghanistan Working Group. Congress appropriated funds for the NSP's $65 million funding shortfall in 2008l and members of both the House and Senate were encouraged by the transparency, efficiency and local ownership the NSP program offered, and promised to help ensure the program’s sustainability.

The week long visit concluded with an increased awareness of Afghanistan’s rural development issues and key national priority programs. For background on the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation & Development please visit: www.mrrd.gov.af.

Related News: Afghan Aid That Works (Christian Science Monitor)

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