Inner-City Pollution in East Afghanistan

Factory owners say new industrial parks outside Jalalabad aren’t fit for use.

Inner-City Pollution in East Afghanistan

Factory owners say new industrial parks outside Jalalabad aren’t fit for use.

From the outside, the building in the residential district of Jalalabad’s Do Saraka area looks like any of the family homes nearby, with children playing in the street outside. 

What distinguishes it from its neighbours is the constant din of noisy machinery running inside. For the last five years, this has been the site of an plant producing aluminium from scrap.

Residents of Jalalabad, a city in eastern Afghanistan, say heavy industrial units in their neighbourhoods – others include marble and gravel works and a business making pressure cookers – makes their lives unbearable.

“I can’t study at home because of the noise coming from the [aluminiump plant,” said Zamir Danishmal, a student at Nangarhar university, said. “We can’t rest in the day or at night. Our community leaders have complained to the authorities in Nangarhar several times… but no one listens to us.”

While Jalalabad residents complain that their city is being polluted by some 130 unlicensed factories, owners say they have nowhere else to set up shop.

The authorities have established four industrial zones on the city outskirts, but industrialists say that there is no electricity or water, security is poor, the plots are costly, and in any case the sites are handed out to favoured friends, not those who need them.

Mohammad Ayub Stanekzai, who owns the aluminium factory, acknowledged that his business was a nuisance for locals but claimed that he had no other choice.

“The government-run industrial zones have no electricity and no security,” he said.

Raziq, an official from the district’s environmental department, said that beyond monitoring the damage caused by unregistered industrial units, there was little his office could do about them.

“We understand that the industrial zones have no security and no power, so we can’t stop factories from being set up in residential zones,” he added.

The authorities claim the industrial parks are nearly ready for use.

Ghulam Nabi Rahmanzai, director of the regional office of the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency said work on one park at Hesar Shahi, east of the city, was now complete, with the transport and power infrastructure in place and 40 plots already allocated.

All it needed was an actual electricity supply, he said.

Mohammad Nabi, director of another industrial park, at Sheikh Misri west of the city, admitted that progress had been slower than anticipated. Cost constraints had hampered the provision of roads, drainage and telecommunications, and the police had only agreed to assign five officers to guard the park.

However, it was electricity that was the crucial issue, he said.

“If power is laid on to the industrial parks, I am sure industrialists will be able to launch their businesses, and they can bring in their own security guards,” he said.

Mohammad Nabi insisted that land was freely available to any industrialist who wanted it.

IWPR approached officials from the Breshna electricity company, which is supposed to be laying on power to the industrial parks, but they said they were not authorised to talk to the media.

Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, spokesman for Nangarhar governor Gul Agha Sherzai, agreed that electricity was the biggest single obstacle to getting the industrial parks going.

“As soon as power is provided to the Hesar Shahi industrial park, we will be ready to provide security to protect it,” he said.

Such promises provide little comfort to people in Jalalabad.

One resident of the Do Saraka neighbourhood, Hazrat Mohammad, 45, said the pollution from a nearby marble factory was giving his children respiratory problems.

“When we get up in the morning… it’s as if dust has been falling from the sky instead of rain,” he said.

Now looking for a home elsewhere in the city to escape these conditions, he said, “Rents are high, but I’ve decided we have to leave this area, even if that means living in a tent.”

Hijratullah Ekhtyar is an IWPR-trained reporter in Nangarhar province.

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