Wednesday, December 16, 2009

If You Wait...

Appropriatel to the season of waiting is a short item in to-day's 'Daily Times of London' (dailytimes ). The headline reads: "Taliban stall Key Project".



The 'key project' referred to is the Kajaki Dam hydroelectric project in Helmand province. And its story is that of Afghanistan in microcosm. Initiated in the 50's by an American company to provide electricity to  Kandahar City and irrigation to the Helmand River Valley, the project was abandoned and incomplete when the Soviets 'invaded' Afghanistan. During operation Enduring Freedom the dam was a bombing target for ISAF air forces. In 2006 it was decided to rehabilitate the installation.

USAID succeeded in getting  the dam functional and one generator unit 'on line'. Further development ie construction and emplacement of the other planned generators required a massive military operation (Okab Tsuka, 2007 news.bbc.co.uk). The success of the mission in getting the turbines to the dam has not been replicated in installing them. Thaat was put on hold when it was fond that due to silting above the dam it would have to be raised 50 feet, or the turbines wouldn't be necessary at all.  But the turbines have had to be well-guarded since by a significant military defence force at, and near, the dam site.

So why don't the Afghans want the benefits of modern civilzation? For one thing the proposed irrigation scheme, has like many others in that part of the world, been counterproductive.  Surface irrigation leaches high salinity in the soil to the surface and actually destroys the valley fields it purports to improve. Not many valley farmers want to get irrigated, and the ones who do, away from the valley, are going to take the water.

The water diversion also causes low water problems downstream, in a part of the world where water really is life, that can have severe consequences, too. Neighbouring Iran has been affected already.

As far as the hydro goes, what production does exist can only be used near the dam itself, for there is no transmission line to distribute the power. Needless to say, one of the prime users is ISAF and the power is used to energize military installations and in anti-taliban applications.

So what's the hold up? While, apparently, the same Taliban 'indians' who necessitated the guarded wagon train that bore the new turbines to the dam, is making the 'road' far too damgerous to import the 900 tonnes of cement required to put the turbines in place. Afghan 'security' are interfering with the work projrects (guarding the refurbishment of the irrigation canals) and the reconstruction of the dam itself.

So there the turbines sit, being guarded against a day in the future when Afghanistan may be a more hospitable land. In the interim, the USAid corporation handling the project is planning to mothball the equipment and is looking for other areas of Afghanistan in which to 'invest'.

Neither a military, nor a civilian solution is on this particular horizon. The road to hell, and all those good intentions, eh?

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