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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.

Mariam Ghani
Zohra Saed
Massoud Hosseini
Nassima Mustafa
Bibigol Ghani
Arian Mouj Sharifi
Soraia Ghani

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Housing shortage reaching critical levels (IRIN)
IRIN News September 13, 2003 AFGHANISTAN: Interview with UN Special Rapporteur on Housing Miloon Kothari the UN Special Rapportuer on Housing KABUL, 12 Sep 2003 (IRIN) - Lack of adequate housing is becoming critical in both rural and urban parts of Afghanistan. Two decades of conflict have left hundreds of thousands of Afghans homeless with an equal number living in temporary or sub-standard accomodation. In an interview with IRIN, Miloon Kothari, a Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing for the United Nations Commission of Human Rights said that lack of housing and land rights is feeding instability and insecurity in some parts of the country. Kothari has been invited by the Afghan government to look at housing, land rights and displacement in the country. QUESTION: How important is the issue of housing and land rights in Afghanistan? ANSWER: If the point of departure for us in this discussion is that everyone in Afghanistan has a right to a secure place to live, as dictated by the human right to housing and land, then yes, the housing and land rights crisis is enormous in scope. I am of the firm opinion that housing and land rights are of significant nature, and very complex as achieving the right to adequate housing and land for all will entail working at all levels of the system: from combating corruption and inefficiency in the judiciary and governmental and provincial institutions, to coming to grips with land occupation by commanders and other powerful members of the establishment at the detriment of the poor and the landless, to arresting land speculation, to the provision of essential services, including water and sanitation to the large proportion of the Afghan population living in extreme poverty. Q: Is it important that the right to housing and land are enshrined in the new constitution? A: It is crucial that the new constitution includes a clear recognition of the right of everyone to adequate housing, land and property. It is also important for the constitution to refer directly to the international human rights treaties that Afghanistan has ratified, is legally bound to, and which should inform the direction of the national laws and policies. I met with the constitutional commission and insisted on this point. These international human rights treaties lay down the obligations of Afghanistan with respect not only to the right to adequate housing, but also a number of other issues of importance for the Afghan population, such as women's equal rights, the right to health, the right to education, the right to food, the right to security of the home and person and the freedom of opinion and expression, just to mention a few. But the recognition of human rights is in itself not enough. The constitution must spell out mechanisms for the implementation of these rights. Q: Is the land crisis contributing to insecurity and instability right now? A: The housing and land crisis will not be resolved unless the government develops a clear all comprehensive National Housing and Land Policy, establishes an effective judicial system to address land and housing disputes and an equally effective machinery of implementation. This has, as we all know, not been done so far, creating a climate of insecurity and uncertainty in which commanders and influential members of the establishment continue to occupy public and private property with complete impunity, in which the poor and vulnerable are forced to live in inadequate and insecure conditions where their lives and health are at risk and they are threatened by the possibility of being forcibly evicted. As you are aware, I made a strong statement on 6 September 2003 regarding the forced evictions that took place in Shirpur village, near Wazir Akbar Khan, here in Kabul, last week. A hundred armed police officers, allegedly led by the Kabul Chief of Police, accompanied by bulldozers and trucks, destroyed the homes of 30 families, approximately 250 people, including women and children. According to the information received, the land concerned is the property of the Ministry of Defence, and is foreseen for houses for high-ranking dignitaries within the Government. However, the poor residents of Shirpur village have lived in their houses for many years, some families for 25-30 years, most of them being employees or former employees of the Ministry of Defense. This case, as with many others that I have seen during my visit to Afghanistan, clearly illustrates that the lack of clarity with respect to land and housing rights often affects the poor and vulnerable in society. My firm recommendation in my statement was that until such time the government has adopted a clear all comprehensive National Housing and Land Policy and established an effective judicial system, a moratorium on all evictions should be made. Such policy should take into particular consideration the needs and rights of women, particularly widows, and vulnerable groups, including returnees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), nomads, such as the Kouchi, the poor, persons with disabilities. Q: Are returning refugees and IDPs making the housing shortage worse right now? A: The influx of returnees, in combination with existing internally displaced, has created an additional strain on the country. However, one of the reasons this burden is so overwhelming is the absence of an existing sound housing and land rights situation to start with. Even without the return of refugees from Pakistan and elsewhere, the situation would have been serious. During decades of war, the country has experienced destruction of houses and land, and deterioration of the limited infrastructure for essential services, including water, a problem made even more acute by the last five years' of drought in many parts of the country. Even among those Afghans who never left the country the needs are enormous. What the return of large number of Afghans to their country has done is to highlight the fundamental and urgent need to address housing and land issues as a matter of priority and with a long-term development, not only humanitarian, perspective. Q: Where is the housing situation worst? A: From my first hand observations in and around Kabul, Jalalabad and Kandahar and from information received from other provinces, I believe that it is safe to say that the non-respect of the right to adequate housing and security of tenure for the poor exists all over the country. The nature and the symptoms of the problem can naturally differ from region to region and from urban to rural areas. Q: Has the response of various UN agencies to the housing and land crisis been adequate in your opinion? A: First of all, the work of UNHCR, UN-Habitat and UNICEF regarding the right to adequate housing and land is exceptional. I believe, however, that there is a need for better coordination between UN agencies and programmes on this issue. The issue of housing and land rights in Afghanistan is so crucial and cross-cutting that it directly or indirectly concerns basically all UN actors, whether UN-Habitat, UNHCR, UNAMA, UNICEF, UNIFEM, FAO, WFP, UNEP, just to mention a few. What I have seen is that there are many good initiatives being taken and initiatives launched by individual organisations, but without the necessary coordination with all partners concerned, particularly local and national NGOs, which could enable initiatives to become more oriented towards sustainable development instead of as today focusing mainly on emergency and humanitarian relief. There are examples of increasing coordination though. I was recently in Jalalabad, where the UN agencies and programmes have set up a joint land task force for better coordination on issues related to housing and land. Such examples should be followed also on the central level. The increasing coordination between UNHCR and UN-Habitat, beginning with the Kabul Shelter Reconstruction Programme, based on the UN-Habitat community model, is another illustration. Secondly, I believe your question raises a fundamental question of responsibility. I have seen a general tendency to expect miracle solutions stemming from the international community, including the United Nations. While the international community needs to continue to play an important role in Afghanistan, the main responsibility lies with the Government, and I would also like to add that the Afghan civil society similarly has a crucial role to play. My observation is that every actor seems to put the main responsibility on someone else, while the only possible long-term strategy is to join forces and efforts. The reality is that the pace of repatriation has in fact slowed down dramatically compared to 2002, according to UNHCR's figures. One of the reasons is that refugees are reluctant - and rightly so - to return when there is uncertainty as to their possibility to return to their houses and lands. Another issue is of course the large number of landless refugees who do not know if and where land will be allocated to them. My position with regard to organized repatriation is that repatriation of refugees should be part of a long-term strategy - there must be an agreement on who will take the responsibility once UNHCR's and other agencies' mandates and capacities reduces. Q: What are the issues of concern in terms of resettlement of IDPs to the areas of their origin? A: The issue is highly complex and there are as you know many different forms of internally displaced persons - from those fleeing persecution and insecurity in their place of origin due to ethnic and land conflict fostered by commanders and warlords; those driven away by drought, and; former refugees whose houses and lands are now destroyed or have been occupied by someone else. This should also be seen in the context of the tendency of increased urbanisation of the country as a whole. During my interviews with people in and around Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad, most of the displaced persons I talked to indicated that given the possibility they would like to return to their places of origin. The issue of security was their main concern, closely followed by concerns related to housing, land and livelihood. Whereas many owned houses, they did not own land and therefore feared that they would never be able to survive if they returned to the areas of their origin. Q: Increasingly high monthly rents paid by UN and international agencies have made it very difficult for many ordinary Afghans in Kabul to be able to rent accommodation. Is there a solution? A: This is a concern that has been raised on several occasions during my visit, mainly by Afghans. It is an issue that's difficult to resolve without rules and regulations. Neither the UN, nor the international agencies and non-governmental organisations, have any interest in increased rents. However, in a city were accommodation is scarce landlords seize the opportunity to raise rents - sometimes absurdly so. What I find much more serious is the current ongoing speculation in land and property taking place not only in Kabul, but also in other urban centers. Poppy cultivation is generating enormous amounts of unaccounted money that are invested into realestate, resulting in increasing prices. The complicity in allocation of lands to wealthy Afghans by the local authorities, including municipalities, places land and housing even further out of the reach of the poor. Q; You have focused a lot on women and their right to adequate housing, land and property during your visit in Afghanistan. How do you view the situation of women in the country? A: From a broad human rights perspective, the situation is serious, whether we talk about the right to participate in public life, freedom of opinion and expression or the right to education. In respect of housing and land, I am most of all concerned about the existing discrimination of women at all levels of society, from the governmental level to the private sphere. Even the international community has failed to adopt a comprehensive approach to address the special needs and rights of women to housing, land and property. I have had the opportunity to discuss with many women, including a women's shura in Kandahar, during my visit and their testimonies reveal a disturbing pattern of exploitation leading to increased vulnerability. I am particularly concerned about women's difficulties to claim their inheritance rights and to access the judiciary and established institutions. Female-headed households seem to be most vulnerable, whether we talk about widows, women abandoned by their husbands or women having the main responsibility as the family's bread-winner. The widespread domestic violence is another concern linked to the right to a secure place to live. Q: During your visit to Afghanistan, did you come across any positive initiatives which could serve as examples to follow? A: Yes, the initiation of the National Solidarity Programme, especially the participation of women in establishing development priorities at the local level. The growing collaboration amongst various UN agencies and programmes on housing and land rights issues, including with the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing and the Ministry of Reconstruction; the adoption of the IDP agenda by UNHCR, the community model developed by UN-Habitat; the work done by UNICEF on the provision of water and sanitation; the promotion and realisation of women's right to housing by the shuras in the districts of the Shomali Plains, and; the setting up of the Land Committee in the Nangahar province to find durable solutions to land related problems and property rights affecting returnees and IDPs. The courageous work of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission should also be recognised and supported. Focus on Kabul housing shortage IRIN News 23 May 2003 KABUL, 22 May 2003 (IRIN) - Roaming damaged western Kabul, Laldana and her children were asking every passer-by if they had seen an unoccupied ruined building so that the homeless widow could live there with her seven- member family. "It is more than misfortune when you cannot find even vacant ruins to live," the mother of seven told IRIN in Kabul, noting she had come from Pakistan seven months ago and lived in a school building. "I am doing laundry for people and cannot save anything after paying for three meals to pay house rent," she noted. As the unpredictable Afghan spring yields to summer, many homeless people like Laldana are trying for refuge in war-damaged buildings and houses in the western part of Kabul. Most have either come from Pakistan and Iran or they are Kabul locals fallen on hard times following huge rent increases last year. "There are totally three families with 25 people living in this half-destroyed building," Ghulam Hassan, a civil servant, told IRIN while squatting beneath the collapsed ceiling of a two-storey former workshop. "Any earthquake or other jolts can destroy the whole building," the forty five-year-old hospital cleaner maintained. Most people in the same predicament live without water or sanitation in these shells, in very unhygienic conditions. Hassan lived in a two-room apartment building in north of Kabul last year. "The landlord increased the rent from US $20 a month to $120 a month which is three times more than my monthly salary," he said, expressing concern that the problem was getting worse. "There are no promising signs when this dilemma will end,” the father of nine underlined. Kabul is currently home to 1,500 families who are living in ruined buildings and schools and over 60,000 families in partially-destroyed houses and apartments, according to UN-HABITAT, the lead UN agency for housing and shelter in the city. For the beleaguered Afghan government, housing has become one of the biggest challenges. "Kabul is in particular need, because of the destruction of 65,000- 70,000 houses and the population of Kabul has now almost doubled since September 2001" Yousuf Pashtum the Afghan Minister of Housing and Urban Development told IRIN noting that according to their surveys 2.8 families or 18- 20 persons lived in one house built to accommodate six. "The number of houses urgently needed is 180 percent more than currently existing," Pashtun described. The influx of returnees and the increasing number of foreign organisations’ offices and guest houses have also contributed to the shortage. The former add to the demand and the latter drive rental costs upwards. "US military offices and UN and international aid agencies are the main players in the rental houses markets," Sadiqullah Sadat, an estate agent in Kabul told IRIN. Most of the homeless are not destitute though, many are government civil servants whose salaries are around $50 per month and simply cannot afford a property. Many have to share small apartments with two to three other big families or live in ruins or unoccupied state buildings. The issue is drawing concern in Kabul and local newspapers have published a series of articles on unscrupulous landlords and on calls for government to intervene. Ahmad Bashir a 45-year-old civil servant who currently lives with his brother, had to leave the apartment he was renting for $20 per month, when the landlord took him to the local police station. "The landlord asked me to pay him $80 or leave the building within 45 days," Bashir said explaining he could not find an apartment for $20 - half of his monthly salary. "I was taken to the police station and a one month evacuation dateline was given by the police chief," it was about to become a serious argument then I preferred to live with my brother in one room with my six children than to go to the court," the teacher said. Buying a house or an apartment remains a distant dream for most of Kabul's citizens. According to Sadat a simple three-room apartment now costs around $30,000 while houses start from $50,000 and go up to a staggering three million dollars in different parts of the city. The average annual income of Afghans is $600 to $1000. Minister Pashtun says the government is aware of the problem and taking steps to build more houses. "We are taking the housing problem very seriously and will solve it through the private sectors," Pashtun said, mentioning there were two projects to improve the situation. "One is to develop a small satellite town, called Shar-i-Sabz, with 100,000 units of housing to be completed in the next three to four years. The other is to start rehabilitating western Kabul which suffered the major destruction and which does not have basic utilities such as water and power," he acknowledged. According to Pashtun, the low-cost satellite towns would be constructed by private contractors and the cheapest apartments would cost just $10,000. He said this would help but he also called for more international assistance to alleviate the capital's housing crisis. UN-HABITAT agreed that donors had been slow to put money into housing in the capital. "They don’t want to encourage more people to come to Kabul,” Lalith Lankatilleke, a chief technical adviser, for the UN agency told IRIN. Lankatilleke pointed out though that there had been lots of donor interest in housing in other parts of the country. "We are currently involved in housing programmes in Jalalabad, Kandahar and Marzar provinces," the technical adviser said, adding that UN-HABITAT also had housing programmes in rural areas of Kabul. "Over 3,300 houses have been built by different donors in the Shomali region north of Kabul," he maintained.
Posted By: mariam   September 15th 2003, 2003 11:25 AM

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.