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

Long Road to Recovery

Some of the country's more remote regions may have to wait years before their battered roads are repaired.
By Shoib Safi

A number of Afghanistan's crumbling roads are finally being rebuilt after long delays that have caused a series of problems for the Karzai government.


But the projects are facing a race against time as the bitter winter sets in and public dissatisfaction grows.


A total of 5,600 km of repairs are planned for main highways over the next three years, and a number of additional, smaller roads also need to be rebuilt.


Asadullah Naseri, planning president of the public works ministry, told IWPR that at an average cost of 140,000 US dollars per km, the bill will come to 920 million dollars. Yet foreign governments have pledged less than half that amount for road construction costs.


Roads are the threads which will tie Afghanistan's many redevelopment programmes - security, trade, agriculture, health care, employment, environment and border control - together.


Public works minister Abdullah Ali said that the surveying, grading and levelling of several major roads from Kabul, including the Salang Tunnel, has already begun, and that paving will commence in the spring.


But just as importantly, the employment and visible progress that comes with the reconstruction of roads will boost political support for Karzai's government.


Around 2,000 workers will be employed on the single biggest project, the Kabul-Kandahar-Herat road, which rings the southern half of the country. They will earn an average of 100,000 afghanis - two dollars - a day. The project began last month and will take around three years to complete.


Ali said the ministry is also working on the roads between Kabul-Jalalabad, Kabul-Herat, and Kandahar-Spinboldak, as well as the reconstruction of the Salang Tunnel.


But Naseri complained that the ministry has had no income since Karzai cancelled road tolls in an attempt to encourage trade, and that it could do the work more far more efficiently than the international companies contracted for the jobs.


"The ministry of public works has 70 years of experience in road-building. If the donors give money us, we can rebuild the roads very well," he said.


"The World Bank has given Afghanistan Aid Coordination Agency 4.9 million dollars for the Salang Tunnel, but if we were given half of this money we would have rebuilt it better and faster."


The World Bank funding will also pay for the cost of keeping the Kabul-Salang road open during the winter to enable work on the tunnel.


Ali told IWPR that the 250 million dollar Kabul-Kandahar-Herat project is being funded by Saudi Arabia, Japan and the United States, the former two paying 50 million each and the latter 80 million. Italy is funding the Kabul-Bamyan section of the Kabul-Maidan-Bamyan-Herat road with a 15 million dollar package.


Japan has donated 15 million dollars via the Asian Development Bank for the Kandahar-Spinboldak road, while the World Bank has also donated a certain amount, and the European Union has pledged an unspecified package for the Kabul-Jalalabad highway.


However, many other places may have to wait years for improved highways. The impoverished Badakhshan province, a remote corner of north-east Afghanistan, has no real roads. The journey to the provincial capital, Faizabad city, can take several days, and people in the province carry most of their things by donkeys.


Dr Mohammad Akbar, deputy director of the local public health department, said there have been hundreds of accidents - many of them fatal - on the main road. "Humanitarian organisations have repaired some parts of the Badakhshan road, but the government has not carried out any reconstruction work yet," he said.


Jamshed, a driver on the road between Badakhshan and Takhar, finds his job frightening and says serious accidents are common.


"I have seen some traffic accidents with my own eyes on this route," he said. "A few days ago, a Kamaz truck [a large Russian transport vehicle] fell down a riverbank in the Qarakamar region. Four people died and two were injured."


Unicef employee Nafeesa said, "The destroyed road is a huge problem. Badakhshan is a mountainous province and its peaks are covered with snow most seasons of the year. Travel is very difficult which is why Badakhshi people have a lot of economic problems and are living in poverty."


Governor of Badakhshan, Sayed Mohammad Amin Tareq, said, "During Loya Jirga, we requested that the government build roads in Badakhshan. Karzai has promised ones from Takhar to the Ishkashem region of Badakhshan and from Faizabad city to Anjuman highway.


"The president has sent delegations to Faizabad many times and they have done their surveys, but the actual work has not yet begun."


Shoib Safi is an independent journalist in Kabul.


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