Joanna Reid - Bordering Afghanistan, with mountainous terrain and high susceptibility to earthquakes and floods, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is difficult to get around. If its people are going to get the basic services they deserve it needs high-quality infrastructure, including bridges and roads. Existing challenges were worsened by the conflict of 2009 and the major floods of 2010.

In the wake of these events, the UK government invested in reconstructing 66 bridges and 40 schools, in partnership with the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The 66th and final bridge was launched last week marking the end of a long journey for all involved. This is a significant accomplishment for the governments of both Pakistan and the UK as these bridges will boost connectivity and economic opportunity for the local communities.

The UK funded schools and steel bridges replaced those destroyed in 2009 and 2010. The insurgency in the province affected many schools – predominantly girls’ schools, where more than 230 buildings were destroyed and around 200 partially damaged. Some bridge sites had previously consisted of simple wooden or pulley bridges, like this one in the photograph. These were washed away by the huge flow of water rushing through the valleys.

Lost bridges meant lost connectivity. Without a bridge to cross the rivers, children couldn’t reach their schools and women couldn’t reach healthcare facilities. Income generation was also limited as pedestrians couldn’t get to local markets and their communities were isolated. The UK stepped up to work with KP’s provincial government to rebuild and reconstruct these schools and bridges. The aim was to help get children back into schools and improve access to health and other district services.

A Department for International Development (DFID) team recently visited Swat and were heartened to see these bridges finally completed after challenges faced during construction - avalanches, earthquakes, security concerns and site relocation. We know that more than 40,000 people will benefit from using them every day and collectively these bridges mean that people are able to get to more than 550 schools, 22 hospitals and 1,500 shops that would otherwise be inaccessible. We have also observed a much higher enrolment rate for girls in villages where these bridges have been built. Life is coming back to normal for the communities.

I'm confident that each of these steel bridges, built to international standards and with a design life of 50 years, will serve millions of journeys across the rivers and ravines and foster socio-economic development in the region. UKAID will continue to invest in the future of Pakistan to bring a positive and a sustainable change. We aim to bring people closer and support the government of Pakistan in the rehabilitation of fragile and vulnerable areas. Together, we will build a strong, stable and prosperous Pakistan.

Joanna Reid is the head of DFID Pakistan since December 2015 and manages DFID’s largest bilateral programme there. She was formerly head of DFID Sudan where she managed DFID’s humanitarian and development programmes in a challenging political environment.