Arian Mouj Sharifi
Update on Kabul housing crisis (dw-world.de)
Note: according to this article, the number of returnees is now up to 2.5 million.
Kabul's Reconstruction Marred by Urban Sprawl
by Karen Fischer
The Afghan capital's population is exploding. Ex-refugees and rural
residents are flocking to the city by the thousands, and that's
creating major problems for Kabul and the aid organizations
It's winter in Kabul. When the sun is shining, the city is manageably
warm; but at night Kabul gets bitterly cold and the frost disappears
only slowly the next day. Warmth here is a luxury, especially for the
city's poor. Tent and container settlements dot the edge of the city,
and in the totally bombed out Hasara quarter in western Kabul, people
live amongst the ruins. For many, a tarp will have to suffice for an
emergency shelter. And many children have to make due with sock-less
sandles -- warmer clothing is something you just don't mention.
Kabul has become a magnet. The masses are coming to the city in the
hope of finding work and a better life. The city has undergone
immense changes in recent years. "There are many more people here and
far too many cars," says Maki Shinohara, a spokeswoman for the United
Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). "The traffic is a
nightmare, there's building going on everywhere, be it legal or
illegal. But that's a Kabul phenomenon that hasn't been the case for
the rest of the country." The limits of how many new residents the
city can absorb have been far exceeded, but the run on the city
continues, almost unabated.
Since the end of the war in Afghanistan close to two years ago, more
than 2.5 million refugees have returned to the country, many from
neighboring Pakistan and Iran. UNHCR is responsible for their
resettlement, but the organization has been overwhelmed by the mass
numbers of refugees who have returned. The incoming tide has only
slowly begun to ease.
The organization's goal is to scale back its activities in the
country as quickly as possible. This year, UNHCR wants to reduce the
number of staff it has on the ground in Afghanistan by 40 percent,
says Shinohara. UNHCR says that its work in Afghanistan is eating up
a huge portion of its budget -- often to the detriment of other UNHCR
programs. Other continents, like Africa, have suffered as a result.
The organization's plan is to register refugees who want to return to
Afghanistan. With their registration papers, the people can return to
their original home villages, where they are expected to rebuild
their livelihoods. During the past year, UNHCR has provided refugees
with enough construction material to build close to 100,000 homes.
The agency has also provided each refugee two months of food. After
that, UNHCR expects refugees to take up their own initiative.
A daunting situation
However, for refugees returning to Kabul, the situation has been more
complicated. In the city, UNHCR has sought to limit its role. "We
want to limit our work to the rural regions," explains UNHCR's
Shinohara, "in order to prevent a massive number of people from
coming to Kabul. The urbanization is already happening fast enough."
People returning to Kabul have a difficult time because they have to
compete with all the others who are coming to the capital in pursuit
of better prospects. Some are returning only to find that their homes
have been destroyed, and reconstruction is expensive.
UNHCR is trying to do more to help these families out, especially
during the harsher winter months. But prospects are much worse for
families who never had their own homes in Kabul. They have no
prospect of obtaining their own property or any help from the UNHCR.
In these cases, says Shinohara, they can turn only to their families.
The transition from rapid relief aid to building Kabul up again and
creating sustainable development remains the greatest challenge.
UNHCR has also tried to learn from mistakes it has made in other
similar projects and started early working together with development
and reconstruction organizations that are engaged in long-term
But the members of the constantly growing class of urban poor in
Kabul have a more immediate priority: surviving the hard winter. And
the residents of the tent cities and destroyed neighborhoods don't
care about where their help comes from -- they just want it soon.
mariam   September 30th 2004, 2004 4:03 PM
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.