High rent forcing NGOs out

Sky-high property rents could force local NGOs in the Afghan capital Kabul to close down, an aid worker told IRIN on Sunday. "The NPO Afghan NGO was paying US $200 [per month] but this month they have been told to pay US $1,000 or move out. They don't have the money and if it continues this way I fear the worst," regional manager for the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR), Abdul Fatah Mamnoon in Kabul said.

"This is incredible. Landlords are charging rents which are higher than what you would pay in some of the most expensive places in the world," he explained. Following meetings with Afghan NGOs in the capital, ACBAR wants to hold discussions with the interim government over the issue of increasing house rents. "We will propose that there is some sort of regulation," he said.

"We know the government is busy working on other issues, but someone needs to remind them that this is happening, otherwise it is going to become a big problem for all Afghans," Mamnoon maintained. The situation, he said was partly due to the foreign media, who had already agreed to pay high rents. "Our landlord has increased our rent by 70 percent," he added.

Extortionate rates have also had repercussions on Afghan aid staff who must return to the war-torn nation as their duty station has shifted. "I am sleeping at my friends house," an aid worker told IRIN as he pointed to his luggage - stored at his office temporarily. "I went to look for a house yesterday on the outskirts of Kabul and I was quoted US $1,000. I earn US $200 per month, now tell me how I'm supposed to rent a house," he lamented. The worker has been forced to leave his family in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, where he was based before the fall of the Taliban.

International aid agencies have also complained of increasing prices. "The rent for our building was increased by 50 percent in January," logistics coordinator for Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), Cederik Linossier told IRIN. A medium-sized house that used to cost US $150 now goes for $1,500 he added. "The media have pushed up prices and it has become very difficult for us to employ a person too. They are being paid US $100 per day when they were previously paid $200 per month."

ACBAR is trying to regulate the salaries of Afghan staff and has issued a code of conduct to all major aid agencies in Kabul. "Traditionally the UN can pay Afghan staff more than the NGOs can, but we feel that there should be a standard rate and they should meet half way," Mamnoon said.

The situation in the capital is not unique. In the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, prices have also escalated according to Mamnoon. "We are trying to set up an office in Mazar but we are facing the same problems in rental costs so we are sending a team of people there to try and sort this out," he said.

Local NGOs in Afghanistan are not the only agencies falling foul of high rents. The UN and international NGOs are also having problems setting up in the country for the same reason. Some organisations have seen rental costs increase tenfold in a few weeks. Meeting landlords' demands for up to 12 months rent in advance has also led to difficulties for international NGOs on tight budgets.

Property dealers say they have made no money for the past 20 years due to the situation in the country and that business has never been better. "There is more demand now and of course we are going to charge more rent because we know that the international community can afford it," Kabul property dealer, Ahmed Shaquib told IRIN. "Business is good now and we can finally feed and cloth our family thank god," he added.