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

Money Spun From Water and Power

By Mustafa Basharat in Kabul (ARR No. 111, 24-Mar-04)
By IWPR

Mohammad Salim told IWPR how he recently bought a second generator to meet the growing demand.


He sells power by calculating 40 afghanis, or about one US dollar, monthly for every light socket used in a household. It’s a price Kabul residents happily pay to compensate for the intermittent electric service provided by the government-owned utility.


Some people here are grateful just to have access to a reliable electricity supply. “To be able to charge my mobile phone every night and watch the daily [television] news is enough – more than enough – for me," said Baset, a Kabul resident.


But others are unhappy that they are being forced to rely on private providers for electricity. Shah Aqasi Guzargah, who lives in the Ekramudin district, said the private providers were good the first year, but now even their service is patchy. Meanwhile, the price for private electricity is increasing, he complained. (See: Entrepreneurs Take Power http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200301_46_2_eng.txt)


Mohammad Azim, another man who owns a generator, explained that the equipment only lasts about two years before it must be replaced. In addition, the cost of fuel has increased, he said.


Many residents have complained to the government, but to no avail. (See: More Power for the Powerful http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/arr/arr_200310_76_3_eng.txt for more on the way electricity is distributed.)


Officials say they are working hard to get more electricity to Kabul. The country's electrical power system is being rebuilt with help from the German development bank KfW.


Engineer Shah Wali, in charge of the KfW-funded project, said new power lines will be completed within the next couple of months.


Wali Yunus Nawandish, a deputy in the ministry of water and electricity, said power is currently unavailable in some western parts of Kabul because not enough is being generated to cover the whole city.


The government has signed a contract to buy electricity from Uzbekistan, but first the power lines will have to be laid to bring it to the capital.


Meanwhile, the shortage of water in Kabul has given rise to another breed of businessmen.


Most residents of the city have to spend a large part of the day waiting to fill water containers from hand-operated pumps, located on nearly every city block.


But those who can afford it buy their water from private water-tanker operators, thereby avoiding the wait. Tanker operators reportedly fill up their trucks with the free water from the city, then resell it to local residents for about 10 afghanis a gallon.


Mohammad Latif, a resident of the Khair Khana district of Kabul, told IWPR, “I have a daily contract with a potable-water tank, and I buy water for 700 afghanis."


Shah Mahmood, the driver of the tanker who supplies Latif, said “I bring and sell water two or three times a day.”


But not everyone can afford this luxury. Zainul Abedin, a Kabul resident who had been waiting for hours at a public pump, said, “I have the task of spending my whole day getting a gallon of water… because I can’t afford to buy water.”


Mustafa Basharat is an independent journalist in Kabul.