Kabul Power Struggle

Afghanistan looks to international community to make good its promises to rebuild the country’s crumbling electricity system.

Kabul Power Struggle

Afghanistan looks to international community to make good its promises to rebuild the country’s crumbling electricity system.

The whirr of generators and the dark, gloomy homes and offices can mean only one thing in Kabul – the electricity is off again.

And while this city’s residents can count on having power for at least half the day, there’s no way of predicting which half it will be.

Drought - which has affected the efficiency of the hydroelectric stations - and war damage are being blamed for the creaky power system that is frustrating residents and leaving businessmen fuming, with the latter finding they have to work around the clock to beat the cuts.

“It has done a lot of damage to our business, because we can’t do any thing during the day and have to stay open right up until the midnight curfew,” said Sayyed Mohammad Yaqoob, who runs a welding company in the Dan-e-Bagh-e-Zanana area of the city.

Poorer Kabulis have to burn wood and coal for their heating and cooking. And even when the electricity is on, the current is so weak that many appliances will not work. “During the night, the power is so low that we still have to use the oil lamp for light,” said Mohammad Sidiq, from the Kart-e-Parwan district.

Even government officials are suffering. Inayatullah Ramz, the man in charge of information and news at Kabul radio, complains that he has to cut down on programming. “Our line-up is limited because of power failures and sometimes our broadcasts have to be cut down to just an hour,” he said.

Over at the public health ministry, medical technologist Mohammad Aseel is making sure that they don’t run out of water. “We use an electric pump to stockpile water early in the morning so that we don’t run out during the day. From a medical point of view, using water kept for 12 hours is unhealthy, but it is better than nothing,” he said.

More than a million returning refugees have put even more pressure on the system. New residents tamper with the hotchpotch of cables to connect themselves to the supply illegally – putting themselves at great risk in the process.

The power cables in some areas of Kabul city are not properly buried, and are a constant danger to the local people. Naqeebullah, a student living in the Kart-e-Mamoreen area, recalls, “Last year, close to our home, a child who touched a live power junction was killed.”

Afghanistan now needs foreign donors to deliver on their pledges to help repair the power system.

Mohammad Amin Munsif, deputy minister at the power and water ministry, who is in charge of the city’s electricity supply, said, “Some of the problems can be solved by repairing the power plant in Kabul, but the countries that promised to help are yet to give any support. We don’t have the resources to repair it by ourselves,” he said.

“We want to save water for the winter. This means cutting back on hydroelectric power. As a result power cuts in some areas of Kabul are inevitable - but we still provide electricity to the hospitals, presidential palaces, ministries and other important places.

“We have had to buy electricity - at international tariffs - from neighbouring states. We will sign a deal with Tajikistan for electricity for the northern provinces and with Iran to supply to the western areas. And if the promises of the Tokyo conference are fulfilled we can have many alternative sources such as wind, solar and gas power.”

In the short term, there’s some good news from the World Bank. It’s planning to grant Afghanistan 33 million US dollars in urgent social assistance - around half of which will be spent on electricity.

Mohammad Shafiq Haqpal and Ali Kazami are freelance journalists in Kabul.

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