A poorly-reconstructed Afghanistan

Miranda Kennedy Aug 21, 2006

A poorly-reconstructed Afghanistan

Miranda Kennedy Aug 21, 2006


BRIAN WATT: This summer has been the bloodiest in Afghanistan since the US ousted the Taliban regime almost 5 years ago. Afghan officials say US forces have killed hundreds of Afghan civilians as they battle a resurgent Taliban in the south of the country. And it’s not just US military operations that have come under fire. The US has spent over a billion dollars reconstructing Afghanistan. And many say that money was badly spent. Miranda Kennedy reports.

MIRANDA KENNEDY: When US contractors started rebuilding Afghanistan, they were working against a deadline, because donors had set targets. So they rushed. And now, roads funded by the US government are sliding off mountainsides and roofs of schools are collapsing.

That’s the allegation of a damning Government Accountability Office report issued last year. Mark Ward is with the US government’s aid agency.

MARK WARD: They are relying largely on untrained labor. Sometimes they do have poor materials-in a major construction contract those sorts of things happen. You do what you can on quality control of materials, but there are going to be some mistakes.

The report claims those mistakes could have been prevented. But because contractors were worried about security, they didn’t monitor quality.

In Afghanistan, overseeing these operations is expensive and dangerous.

But today Colonel Chris Toomey, head of the army corps of engineers in Afghanistan, has driven up to the northern city of Mazar e Sharif to do just that. He’s checking on a $70 million base camp they’re building for the Afghan National Army, or ANA.

CHRIS TOOMEY:“See look at this, already. Hey Gary. Already. I mean what is fair wear and tear these days.”

Toomey’s standing in an industrial-sized kitchen built to feed 4,000 soldiers at a time. He’s looking at cracks in the massive concrete stoves.

The army corps just finished the kitchen a couple months ago, but the stoves are already deteriorating because kitchen staff, he says, are sometimes careless.

TOOMEY: What we have to figure out is how to design it so it can handle the way they operate.

KENNEDY: So this is all like a process of figuring it out as you build?

TOOMEY: Well a lot of these designs were done some time ago, and as we watch the ANA cook, we get to see what they do culturally and we can design better.

Toomey admits that the US employs plenty of contractors who don’t follow up as closely as the Army Corps does.

There’s no law requiring the US to build to a certain standard in Afghanistan or Iraq, even though American taxpayer dollars are funding it. And Afghanistan doesn’t have its own building codes quite yet.

TOOMEY: There is a master road plan that was adopted by government of Afghanistan but the question is, is it adhered to? No it is not adhered to.

Ultimately, he says, Afghanistan will have to figure out a way to monitor construction-or it’ll keep getting schools that leak and roads that flood when it rains.

In Mazar e Sharif, Afghanistan, I’m Miranda Kennedy for Marketplace.

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