|Kabul: 10:14 AM      |
Welcome to Kabul:Reconstructions. You can follow the information below, which has been gathered from a
number of sources by a number of participants (click on the names at left for bios), to reconstruct your
own picture of events in Kabul since this site was launched on March 8th, 2003 and, in a sense, since the
reconstruction of Afghanistan began somewhere in the winter of 2001-02.
Some of this information has been provided in response to specific questions submitted by visitors like you. Please note that this section of the project is now maintained as an archive and has not been updated since 2005. Click here to ASK A QUESTION.
Arian Mouj Sharifi
The Washington Post October 26, 2003 Swallowed by Kabul's Cracks; Afghan Returnees Find The Living's Not Easy By Pamela Constable They live in tents and storefronts and abandoned ruins, cooking and bathing on patches of dirt. The men haunt traffic circles, hoping to be picked up for a day's construction work. The women knock on doors asking for clothes to wash. The children forage for firewood and filch potatoes from bazaars. They are returnees without a refuge, the least skilled and most vulnerable of an estimated 750,000 Afghans who have flooded into Kabul in the past 18 months from Pakistan, Iran or other parts of Afghanistan where they had fled during years of war, drought, civil conflict and religious repression. They came back because they had heard there was democracy and peace in their homeland. Mistakenly, they thought this also meant jobs, land and help. Instead, they fell straight between the cracks of a vastly overburdened Afghan government and an international aid network that is geared to help almost every category of need except theirs. "People were promised green gardens, but when we got here, we found there was nothing at all," said Abdul Moqim, 33, an illiterate, one- legged war veteran who returned from Pakistan nine months ago and now lives with his wife and six children in a tent colony of 150 families in the city's Khair Khona district. Moqim, who worked as a cook in Pakistan, said his disability has doomed his job prospects in a capital crammed with idle, able-bodied men. He spent the summer building a mud baseboard around his flimsy home, but he knows that when winter comes, it will not keep out the bitter, high-altitude cold. "We have extra blankets," he said. When families like Moqim's cross the border into Afghanistan, as about 2.2 million returning refugees have done since early 2002, they register with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which gives them some cash, wheat, plastic sheeting and a few other basic necessities. After that, those headed for the countryside are eligible to receive additional foreign assistance, in keeping with U.N. policy to encourage Afghans to repopulate their original villages and farmlands. But those settling in the capital, which is densely crowded and poorly serviced, are virtually on their own. "Frankly, our priority has been rural," said Maki Shinohara, spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency here. "People come to Kabul because it is more secure and there are more job opportunities, but it is already overpopulated. There was a big pull factor toward the city, so we have tried to pull people back to the rural areas." Despite such efforts, the tide of immigrants into the capital has continued, though at a less frantic pace than a year ago. Those with skills generally find a niche in the fast-growing urban economy, and those with land are eligible for reconstruction assistance from foreign aid groups. But thousands of families have ended up as penniless squatters on blighted urban tracts. Across the street from Moqim's tent colony is a row of vacant shops into which another 54 impoverished refugee families have hunkered down. Each has erected a blue U.N. plastic sheet across the entrance for privacy, but the cloth does not keep out the stench from the open sewer that runs alongside. "We were happy to come home, but we are living like animals," said Raz Mahmad, 27, a leader of the community, whose members migrated from a refugee camp in northwestern Pakistan. "In the camp, we had water, electricity, shelter and jobs," he said. "Now we have to rely on our children for food. It is a great shame for us." The only sign of government help these families see is a teacher who comes every day from the Afghan education ministry to hold literacy classes in one of the mud shops. Most of the attendees are small children, who practice math tables on a homemade blackboard and read short passages from an illustrated workbook. But although the classes are free and have no age limit, almost everyone older than 12 is out in the streets, hustling for food and money. Boys shine shoes, search garbage dumps for soda cans or swing jars of incense as a form of alms-seeking. Girls beg for vegetables or snatch them from carts. Allah Mahmad is a quick-witted 15-year-old who finished third grade in Pakistan and can recite most of the alphabet in English. But now he spends his days selling pink toilet paper from a sidewalk tray. His father, who brought the family of nine to Kabul two months ago, is sick and jobless. Mahmad and his younger brother, who also sells toilet paper, bring home about 50 cents a day. "I liked school, and I even learned some foreign words, but now I have to work to feed my family," Mahmad said with both pride and regret. "I'd like to study to be a mechanic some day, but I just don't have the time." The tent colonies of Khair Khona are the most startling evidence of a festering urban problem that is largely hidden from view. Along the endless lanes of abandoned houses in West Kabul, an area virtually destroyed by civil war in the 1990s, hundreds of returnee families live in crumbling, lightless ruins, uncounted and unnoticed. In one block, a maze of tumbled walls, live 18 families who returned together from Iran last summer. Dropped at a city bus stand, they walked as far as they could with their bundles and stopped. Now they occupy stone rooms with gaping windows and ceilings, sleeping on dusty carpets and hanging their laundry from the roof. "My children are hungry, my father is sick, and we are afraid to go out at night," said Khalid Mahmad, 54. None of his children attend school, and he has not been able to find work. "We've spent all our money, and we can't go back to Iran," he said. "We are stuck." Both Afghan authorities and international aid agencies are aware of the returnees' plight, but local government has few resources to help them and foreign assistance programs, initially unprepared for the mass urban influx, have been slow to respond to the city's urgent need for emergency shelters and low-cost housing. One problem, Shinohara said, has been the difficulty of finding land in an overcrowded, poorly regulated city where property is often in dispute and prices are skyrocketing. She said the U.N. refugee agency has persuaded authorities not to evict squatters from public buildings this winter, but that its plan to rehabilitate one housing complex has become mired in bureaucracy. For impoverished returnee families who own land and need help rebuilding their former homes, a few sources of help are available. Currently, a French aid organization called ACTED is providing 300 such families with roof beams, windows, doors and enclosed cement latrines. The residents provide all labor except for the bathrooms. "We are trying to get everything finished by December, before the real cold sets in," said Beth Bolitho, an ACTED official. "These are traditional Afghan homes. The families supply the mud and most of the manpower, so there is an important element of self-mobilization." In Kalai Fatu, a rural area south of the city that was decimated by bombs and rockets during the civil war, 36 mud-walled homes are in various stages of reconstruction with ACTED's help. The area has no electricity and no drinking water, but it has the feeling of a community that is coming alive again. On Sunday, a woman named Tahira came to her door with mud-caked hands. She proudly showed off her parlor, with new wooden window frames and a half-finished mud floor she was smoothing over with a flat spade. A canary was singing exuberantly in a cage. "When we came back, the house was totally destroyed. It had been burned by rockets, and we could never afford to rebuild it," said the mother of nine, whose husband earns $ 33 a month as a government janitor. "Now we are happy that God has beaten our enemies and we can finally come home again."
Posted By: mariam   October 28th 2003, 2003 1:30 PM
Kabul: Partial Reconstructions is an installation
and public dialogue project that explores the multiple meanings and resonances of
the idea of reconstruction -- as both process and metaphor -- in the context of present-day Kabul.
www.kabul-reconstructions.net is an online discussion forum, information resource, and medium for the communication of questions and answers about the reconstruction between people inside and outside the city of Kabul itself.