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Electricity Woes A Way Of Life In Afghanistan

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Electricity Woes A Way Of Life In Afghanistan

Electricity Woes A Way Of Life In Afghanistan

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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There are many things that are lacking in Afghanistan that Westerners take for granted - one of them is electricity. Despite heavy foreign investment in power plants and electrical lines, including more than a billion dollars allocated by the United States, most Afghans still have no access to power, including most residents of the capital, Kabul.

So how do people manage? As our Kabul correspondent, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, reveals in her Reporter's Notebook, it often involves bribes and sometimes digging up the street.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: There are many challenges for a reporter in a warzone, like dodging bullets and kidnappers or going days without sleep or a shower. But this challenge is not usually found on the list.

(Soundbite of shoveling)

NELSON: That's my staff shoveling dirt into a gaping hole on our street. One our neighbors had dug the hole so we could reach a power main feeding our homes and offices that had shorted three days earlier, and this contraption…

(Soundbite of generator)

NELSON: A little red generator that I used during the frequent power outages was about to blow from too much use. In the West, a burned out power main is something municipal workers replace, but in Kabul, where hefty bribes and an upscale address are often prerequisites for at least some daily electricity, it's left up to customers to make repairs.

Fawad Siddiqi works a couple of doors down from NPR.

Mr. FAWAD SIDDIQI: (Through translator) Afghanistan is uncapable of providing services to its people. No government workers do their jobs here. Thankfully, a neighbor got the ball rolling, paying for the new cable and for the workers.

NELSON: Even those workers failed to stay long enough to seal the new cable that already has holes in it — nor did they repair the street. That was left to NPR.

(Soundbite of sizzling)

NELSON: My guard, Hafiz, poured the tar he's boiled on a tiny propane stove onto the cable. The result was not pretty. But hopefully this black bubbling mess when it dries will actually cover up the hole, which will prevent this cable from burning out once again.

Two months later, the cable still works. And these days our neighborhood is enjoying round-the-clock electricity for the first time.

Ismail Khan is the minister of energy and water.

Mr. ISMAIL KHAN (Minister of Energy and Water): (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: He says the additional power is the result of a deal signed with Uzbekistan to the north, as well as heavy spring rains that filled the reservoirs used to generate hydroelectric energy. He adds that some $200 million in improvements to energy-related infrastructure also help. Yet it turns out I'm among a minority of Kabul residents who are getting 24-hour electricity.

Peter Argo is the deputy director of the U.S. Agency for International Development in Afghanistan, which is heavily involved in improving power systems here.

Mr. PETER ARGO (U.S. Agency for International Development in Afghanistan): Kabul, as a city and as a distribution company, was set up 30 years ago for a population of only about a million. Now we're at about four-and-a-half million, if you believe all the reports that we get. There is a tremendous unmet need.

NELSON: And he says there are also a tremendous number of poachers, who run illegal wires to their homes and businesses.

Mr. ARGO: Right now the estimates are that 60 percent of the power that comes into Kabul is unaccounted for. They can't bill for it. They can't collect for it.

NELSON: Argo says major fixes are in the works to address Kabul's electricity woes, but he adds it may take another two or three years.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul.

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