Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Anger Over Slow Progress in Afghan Province

Locals want to see movement on power, water and transport projects.
By Benafsha Benish

Officials in Badghis have warned that public protests are likely if there is no significant progress on a number of long-delayed development schemes.

Huge swathes of the northwestern province lack access to safe drinking water and a reliable electricity supply. Locals are also impatient for work to start on the Qaisar-Laman ring road, a major infrastructure scheme expected to boost the local economy which when complete will encircle the country.

Badghis provincial council member Mohammad Nasir Nazari said that local development had stalled due to disinterest from central government, a situation made worse by ineffective monitoring and administrative corruption.

In September 2016 there were angry protests in the provincial capital Qala-i-Naw public over the slow pace of local development and Nazari warned that this was likely to happen again.

“Residents of Badghis will not tolerate their neglect by the government anymore, and if the projects don’t start when they are supposed to, people will pour into the streets and begin holding protests like in previous years,” he warned.

One major issue affecting ordinary people is the expensive and unreliable electricity supply. Even in Qala-i-Naw, families are forced to run generators for at least five hours a day,  paying 45 Afghanis per kilowatt which is around ten times more than government-supplied electricity.

Locals are particularly angry since a contract to supply the province with electricity from Turkmenistan was signed with Sanir, an Iranian company, in 2012.

The 15 million dollar scheme involved building 52 kilometres of powerlines that would reach central Baghdis and was envisaged to take 18 months. However, six years later the project is yet to be completed.

Sanir officials said that security issues were behind the delays.

Mehdi Dawoodi, a representative of Sanir, said that they had been unable to install 25 power stations in a 12 km area in Sangi Atash, a part of Baghdis bordering Turkmenistan that was controlled by the Taleban.

 “Installing 25 power tower within the next three months would mean that 20 megawatts of imported electricity from Turkmenistan would reach cities and villages near Qala-i-Naw,” he said.

The lack of safe drinking water is another pressing concern that extends far beyond the provincial capital. In the districts, people are forced to carry water by donkey from remote and inaccessible springs due to the lack of dams and public wells.

The provincial department of rural rehabilitation and development has undertaken to provide safe drinking water via a pipeline running from a dam in Qadis, in the south of the province, to central Badghis.

The department’s director, Bakhtiyar Alokozi, said that the project would be implemented within the next three months.

Khalid Safi, an advisor to the Badghis governor, said that the pipeline had reached within a kilometre of the city and would soon be supplying residents with water from the Qadis dam.

As for the ring road, construction has yet to begin even though President Ashraf Ghani formally inaugurated the project in December 2017.

Beginning in Qala-i-Naw, the road will pass through the provinces of Herat, Farah, Kandahar, Ghazni, Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif and Sheberghan before ending in Maymana, the provincial capital of Faryab.

Badghis director of public works Abdullah Himayat said that the 85 million contract to build thesection of road from Laman to Bom Dara in Badghis had been awarded to one Indian and one Chinese company, with work due to start in the next two months.

Himayat said that administrative processes of signing contracts and transferring work equipment were the reasons for the delay.

Despite such assurances, Siddiq Atef, director of the Badghis civil society network, said that local NGOs remained concerned about the lack of progress.

“They say that some of the major projects of this province have remained incomplete for many years,” he said.

An ongoing problem which has dogged reconstruction across the country has been the failure to spend successive year’s development budgets.

The 2016 Baghdis budget saw 49.5 million dollars allocated for the construction of 47 projects, of which 28 were completed, 12 projects transferred to 2017, and the work of seven other projects has still not begun.

Even smaller budgetary allocations have gone unspent. Behzad Wahdat, director of the provincial department of economy, said that last year’s budget had been 28.6 million dollars, allocated towards 53 projects.

However only 17 million dollars had been spent with 22 projects implemented. A further 25 had been transferred to 2018 and the work of six other projects had not started.

“For many years now, development projects are transferred from one year to another,” he explained.

But Ajmal Hamid Abdulrahimzai, a spokesman for the ministry of finance, said that the situation was broadly improving across the country.

He said that 67 per cent of the total 161 billion Afghanis (2.3 billion dollars) development budget for 2017 had been spent.

Abdulrahimzai added that his department was working on a mechanism to further improve performance, noting that priority in the last year had been given to development and countering unemployment in rural areas.

 This report was produced under IWPR’s Supporting Investigative Reporting in Local Media and Strengthening Civil Society across Afghanistan initiative, funded by the British Embassy Kabul.