New Silk Road to Link Central Asia, Europe
Hong Kong, November 10, 2007 (Voice of America): China and seven Central Asian countries have agreed to build a modern-day equivalent of the historic Silk Road, in the hope of once again making Central Asia a vital transit route for trade between Asia and Europe. Claudia Blume reports from Hong Kong.
Until the Middle Ages, a network of trade routes known as the Silk Road was an important economic artery connecting China and Europe via Central Asia. Today, less than one percent of all trade between Asia and Europe goes overland through the countries of Central Asia. The main reasons are poor transportation infrastructure and cumbersome border and customs procedures.
That is about to change. China and seven Central Asian countries - including Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Mongolia - have agreed on an $18 billion strategy to improve the region's network of roads and railway lines within the next 10 years.
Sean O'Sullivan is the director of the Central and West Asian department of the Asian Development Bank, which is providing some of the financing for the project. He says the purpose of the New Silk Road will be to provide a more direct route between East and West.
"The idea is that instead of everything going around the Central Asian region, either by sea or in the North, the Trans-Siberian railway route, the idea is that through cooperation, through better infrastructure, through better and smoother border crossing and coordination, that the transport will take these routes right across instead of going around or by sea," he said.
O'Sullivan says the project will not follow the exact China-to-Europe routes taken by the ancient Silk Road. Instead, the plan is to develop six corridors that not only go from east to west, but also from north to couth, connecting the Central Asian republics, Russia and China with South Asia and the Persian Gulf countries.
"One of the key features of Central Asia and these countries we are working with, most of them are landlocked and it's just very important to get a corridor, for example to the south, to the sea across Afghanistan, which is opened up," he added.
About half of the funds for the project will come from the eight countries involved, while the Asian Development Bank and other multinational organizations will provide the rest.
Ghazni orphans get medical aid, food items
Kabul, November 10, 2007 (Pajhwok Afghan News): ISAF Regional Command-East service-members conducted a humanitarian aid and vision screening mission at an orphanage in Ghazni province.
We are here to do vision screening to see if anyone needs glasses, said Army Maj. Ramey Wilson, an ISAF internal medicine physician. We are checking all the childrens vision as well as asking the teachers if any of the children have shown any trouble reading.
Eighty children at the orphanage received vision screening. The children who were identified as needing further eye exams to get prescription corrective eyewear will receive free glasses under a joint program with NOOR Eye Care, a non-governmental organisation.
Some children were identified as needing further testing, said Wilson. If it is found that they need glasses, the cost will be paid by the non-governmental organizations and the glasses will be made for them in Kabul.
In addition to conducting the vision screening, the Ghazni PRT also provided bags consisting of rice and beans, cooking supplies, cooking oil and sugar to the orphanage as well as medicine for the orphanages clinic.
We always try to bring donated items during our visits. We have had an incredible response from the people at home in the U.S. who have sent clothes, shoes, school supplies and computers, Wilson said.
While the Ghazni orphanage started out as an ISAF medical assessment mission, it has become a joint project between ISAF ground forces and assets from the Ghazni PRT. This is especially true in delivery of donated items to the orphanage.
The orphanage only gets money for food, so to cover the operating expenses they sometimes have to dip into those funds. Giving them the food supplies helps bring the budget back into balance and ensures the children get enough to eat, said Maj. Diana Hay, Ghazni PRT civil affairs team leader.
The visit gave Ghazni PRT service-members a chance to assess the facilities, which also serve as a school. Occasionally, the number of children the facility serves can reach up to 200.
Each time we go we try to focus on a particular preventative medicine or general wellness issue, explained Wilson. We have done preventative medicine assessments to include water testing and evaluation of the food preparation areas. Other things we have done are height and weight for growth charts, screening for goiter and other indicators of iodine deficiency which is more common in this area because the salt is not iodized. In essence we are conducting school physicals.
Service-members were also able to speak with the school administrators, principal and teachers. Part of our work here is to try to establish what government and NGOs are taking care of the orphanage, said Wilson. We try to coordinate our support in an effort to make the orphanage better and safer.
Coordination and consistent support are important factors behind success in projects such as the outreach to the Ghazni orphanage. Forming relationships and following through on projects was stressed by the service-members who routinely visit the orphanage.