A lack of regular electricity in Nangahar Province in eastern Afghanistan is undermining reconstruction efforts and pushing families back into poverty, say business leaders in the provincial capital, Jalalabad.
The city stands on a vital trade route with neighbouring Pakistan and until a few years ago had factories and workshops producing soap, plastic household goods, marble stones, salt, cloth, pots and a variety of other goods.
A recent survey by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Afghan Chamber of Commerce revealed 30 factories and workshops in the city have closed in the past few years because of a lack of power.
“There were 115 factories in 2011 but today there are 85 and if there is no electricity it could be reduced more,” Mohammed Qasam Yusufy, the local representative of the Afghan Chamber of Commerce, told IRIN.
“About 600 people have been left jobless by factories shutting down only this year,” he added citing electricity problems as the major cause.
Almost half the country’s external trade passes through the province, according to the Chamber of Commerce - including 70 percent of NATO supplies.
But provincial government officials say insecurity has delayed a planned power connection to Kabul’s Naghlo hydroelectric plant, which was due to provide 32 megawatts (MW) to the city, six of which to the Shikh Misry Industrial Park.
The proposed link has been undermined by insecurity in Uzbin District, Kabul Province, according to Muheburahman Mohmand, the provincial representative of Da Afghanistan Breshna Shirakat (DABS), the national power company.
“Only a few days ago, the enemy of our people destroyed an electricity pylon in Spir Kondy area of Uzbin District. We have shared our worries with the Afghan ministries of interior and defence but never received any positive answer,” he said.
“All the work is done, only a 1,000-metre-long power line has to be connected to the water dam to have power here in this province.”
The UN has identified energy as a major cross-cutting issue: “Energy is the golden thread that connects economic growth, increased social equity, and an environment that allows the world to thrive. Development is not possible without energy, and sustainable development is not possible without sustainable energy,” says the UN 2011 Sustainable Energy for All initiative.
Sardar Khan owns a factory in Jalalabad making plastic pipes, which cost him US$200,000 to set up. He employed 50 people but after two years of operation he has been forced to close: “The biggest challenge is power.” Using diesel generators makes his pipes far too expensive.
The lack of power has stalled an industrial sector with the potential to lift thousands of Afghans out of poverty. Shikh Misry Industrial Park was part of Jalalabad’s vision to launch its economy, but since being set up in 2006 it has yet to welcome a functioning factory.
Jalalabad currently gets all its electricity from the Nangarhar 14 MW hydroelectric dam built by Russian and Afghan engineers in 1965. But civil wars and conflict have affected the maintenance of the facility, leaving only two of the three turbines to some extent operational.
|If they were bringing this power on a donkey it would have arrived here – Ali Ahmad, security guard|
The electricity is used to provide power to government offices and 4,000 houses, but can only supply a limited number of factories.
“It has been three years officials say power from Naghlo is coming. If they were bringing this power on a donkey it would have arrived here,” said Ali Ahmad, a resident of Majbor Abad village, who works as a security guard.
Last year he got his electricity from a fuel-powered generator which was used for 10 hours a day to power two fans and two light-bulbs. It cost US$40 a month - nearly half his salary.
“I do not know whether I pay for food, clothes and other household goods or pay for power. People who know officials or bribe officials have 24-hour power in their houses while my children got sick because of extreme heat.”
An official responsible for power distribution in Nangarhar Province said in one case power supplied to a government office was being delivered to 60 other buildings illegally. He estimated around 30 percent of electricity is lost in this way.
Meanwhile, off-grid solutions may help families in remote parts of the province that would have to wait decades for any possibility of a connection to the national grid. Eleven micro-hydro plants with a combined capacity of 125 kilowatts are being built in the province by the Energy for Rural Development in Afghanistan project at the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation. It is hoped they will provide a power supply to 1,845 families at a cost of around US$600,000.