My trip to Afghanistan

By: Atiq Panjshiri, SAE President

Over the past three weeks I travelled to Afghanistan and met with several Afghan Ministers, our colleagues at the Afghanistan Engineering Association (AEA) as well the President of Afghanistan and the Chief Executive, their excellencies Dr. Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.

In summary, my meetings were overwhelmingly positive and the officials were extremely friendly and cooperative. In showcasing the expertise and credibility of SAE, I was able to secure the trust of the government of Afghanistan that SAE has the competence and skill to play a major role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The ball is now in our court. The government of Afghanistan has given us an open invitation to develop proposals in areas that SAE can contribute to Afghanistan’s development and reconstruction. This is our opportunity to prove that SAE is indeed a professional, experienced, and effective organization.

The scale of our contributions, whether short or long-term, is entirely up to us to decide. It is now time for us to develop a plan of action. Below are brief summaries of each of my meetings. All meetings included a brief introduction of SAE followed by discussion of the specific needs of each ministry. The content below provides a framework to identify areas where SAE can make a meaningful contribution to Afghanistan’s reconstruction.

It is now time for action.

1. Ministry of Urban (City) Development:

The New Minister for Urban Development, was both energetic and enthusiastic about his responsibilities as a minister. He expressed great interest in collaborating with SAE in relevant areas. The Minister mentioned that so far he has secured approximately $500 million in international funding for urban development projects and he needs help from SAE to properly and efficiently use this fund. His top priorities are:

• Master Plans: each city should be built based on a comprehensive master plan.

The master plan should be divided into:
o General master plan
o Sector plan
o Special plan that is unique to the special characteristics of each city

• Affordable Housing: every city must provide for minimum number of affordable housing units
• Standards: All new cities must be designed and built based on accepted engineering principals and standards
• Water and Sewer system: each city must be designed based on public water and sewer systems or an acceptable septic system that is environmentally safe
• Training and capacity building
• Certification of engineering credentials
• Creation of a think-tank body within the ministry
• Creation of engineering and architectural ethical environment and standardized process

2. Ministry of Public Works:
The Ministry of Public Works needs assistance in the following areas:
• Capacity Building: urgently needs assistance
• Advisory Board: the ministry would like to create an advisory board of 10-15 people who would work with the minister directly on all matters whether technical or administrative.
• Contracting laws: urgently need 1-2 individuals experienced in contracting laws.
• Design: Needs 1-2 Design Consultants capable of being in direct contact with donors. The person(s) must be 1) honest 2) clean of any corruption 3) experienced and energetic.
• Road construction design standards

3. Ministry of Telecommunications
The Ministry of Telecommunication needs assistance in the following areas:
• Enforcement of the rule of law and following standards and guidelines
• Promotion of open market practices

4. Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL):
Currently the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock manages 31 local projects and 18 international projects. The ministry needs assistance in the following areas:
• Project Planning
• Capacity building
• Irrigation:
o Survey & Design
o Monitoring and Inspection
• Small dams
• Refrigeration centers with minimum energy usage
• Processing centers with value changes
• Agribusiness
o Industrial & Agricultural Parks
o Processing centers
o Market for sales & purchases

5. H.E. President Ashraf Ghani:
The President repeatedly stated that he is willing to support any project SAE would like to take on, whether it is short-term or long-term. He asked that the Society develop as many proposed projects as we can handle and to submit them for approval. I also met briefly with H.E. Dr. Abdullah. He concurred with the president and said that he supports the president’s plan and would do anything possible. The ministers whom I met reiterated the same sentiments H.E. President Ghani expressed. The President wants SAE to be actively involved. However because the needs of Afghanistan are so vast he asked that we submit a formal proposal for any project we would like to lead ASAP.

H.E. President Ghani identified the following priority areas as ripe for collaboration:
• Dams: build a small system of dams with dual purpose in:
o Irrigation
o Electricity
• Kabul River: assess how much electricity this river could generate. Recommended that SAE consider Kabul River as a pilot project with three functions as the core for this project:
o Sanitary sewers
o Water
o Public transportation
• Helmand & Hariroad Rivers: prepare a new feasibility study for better generation of electricity. The Iranians are ready to purchase as much as we could produce. Use Ontario as an example of electricity production.
• Naghlo Dam: potentially expand this dam’s basin to include the old Kabul – Jalababd Road for higher electricity generation. The Kabul-Jalalabad Road will be relocated as a new expressway.
• Flood management: build 100-400 small dams that could not only control flooding for the protection of life and irrigable land, it could also be used for irrigation and electricity generation. These dams should be standardized with proper operation and maintenance. The Panjshir & Logar Rivers could be pilot projects.
• Roads: Afghanistan has no roadway design standard, every contractor comes up with its own standard. Afghanistan needs at least 40,000 km of roads for internal use and more than 120,000 km to service international trade and commerce. A group of professional engineers such as SAE are needed to work with the government for quality assurance, quality control, and cost control.
o China is interested and eager to build the Wakhan Corridor
o Build a semi Ring Road between Kabul & Jabul Seraj
o Turkmenistan is interested and will provide assistance and support in road construction, gas and oil pipeline, fiber optics, and electricity generation.
• Private Sector: SAE can assist in the qualification of companies and developing standards for private sector cooperation in reconstruction efforts.
• Home Construction: develop pre-fabricated buildings for:
o Government building, urgently needed
o 20-40 new schools to be built each year, schools structures need to be standardized based on type of schools
o Need to create cities near government buildings to lessen traveling distance
o Move the government building out of Kabul city to Darl-Aman
o Build affordable housing for government employees
• Transportation system: President Ghani is willing to leave it to SAE to come up with a better solution to alleviate road and traffic problems in Kabul not for just today but for the next 30 years. Need comprehensive transportation system with concentration on expansion and reconstruction. Bus system must be revitalized to reduce the number of taxis with its negative on the environment. The new transportation system must be a continuous and sustainable long term solution.
• Buildings: encourage vertical buildings in compliance with the international building code and safety standards to meet the need of Afghanistan’s current and future population.
• Historic buildings: preserve historic buildings
• Paghman: recommended that SAE take charge of at least 10 projects in Kabul including Paghman which is mostly government land
• Darl-Aman: survey and determine the boundaries and total government owned land to create it as a government complex
• Kabul Mountains: recommended that SAE do a feasibility study of Asmayee & Shir Darwaza Mountains and provide a plan on what to do with these two mountains. It could be considered as a center of hotels, recreation, or green area. Any logical recommendation from SAE would have H.E. President Ghani’s support.
• Pul Charkhi & the airport area: recommended that SAE develop a comprehensive plan on what to do in these two regions. The same is requested for the Deh Afghanan area of Kabul.
• City planning: develop plan for the entire country based on 21st century needs. Provide at least 10 independent city planning projects.
• Imports: develop country-wide goal of reducing construction material imports to 30 percent. Currently Afghanistan imports approximately one million tons of cement each year. Afghanistan would like to balance the export and import ratio in ten years.
• Universities:
o Afghan university studies are disconnected with relevant needs of the country
o SAE can take charge of one university through distance learning
o India will provide a new satellite system by next year for distance learning
o Project management should an independent discipline of engineering
o Create a system of certification for engineers and architects
o Create vocational education to produce certified skilled labor