News / Asia

Lights Set to Go Out in Kandahar After US Aid Winds Down

FILE - A female worker scatters raisins to select at Hajii Sher Mohamad Raisin Factory, near Kandahar, Afghanistan.
FILE - A female worker scatters raisins to select at Hajii Sher Mohamad Raisin Factory, near Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Reuters

When the United States stops funding power generation in Afghanistan's southern city of Kandahar next year, the lights are set to go out and factories will fall idle, playing into the hands of Taliban insurgents active in the area.

Bringing a stable source of electricity to Kandahar, the cradle of the hardline Islamist movement and once a base for its leader Mullah Omar, was a top U.S. "counter-insurgency priority'' as Washington pursued its policy of winning "hearts and minds."

But regular power in the city is still years away, and when the United States finally ends subsidies - currently running at just over $1 million a month - in September 2015, Kandahar could lose around half its severely limited electricity supplies, Afghan power officials and U.S. inspectors say.

The Taliban, meanwhile, control about half the 12 MW of power supplied to Kandahar province from the Kajaki plant in neighboring Helmand province, ensuring a stable supply of electricity in their strongholds, according to the head of state power firm Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS) in Kandahar.

"There are some 130 different factories operating in Kandahar whose electricity is maintained and paid for by the Americans,'' said Fuzl Haq, a businessman in Kandahar.

"If the Americans stop paying for the fuel to run these factories, some 6,000 workers will lose their jobs,'' Haq added, reflecting concerns of many locals in Afghanistan's second city.

"These are all young people and they may join up with the Taliban or resort to crime in order to earn money.''

Alex Bronstein-Moffly, a spokesman for the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), said power shortages in insurgent heartlands would be a major setback 13 years after the Taliban was toppled in a U.S.-led war.

"If electrical service to Kandahar is compromised it could end up endangering counter-insurgency and economic gains made over the last few years,'' he said.

Long delays

U.S. power subsidies were intended to fill in until the power grid reached Kandahar and a new turbine was installed at Kajaki dam, but both projects remain years away from completion, not least because of strong armed resistance from the Taliban in the region.

"It appears that the U.S. still has no realistic plan for helping the Afghan government develop a sustainable source of electricity,'' wrote John Sopko, a U.S. special inspector general, in a report published on Tuesday.

Winning over locals in the hot, dusty cluster of low-slung houses and markets has been a priority for the United States, which, like other foreign powers, is due to withdraw most of its troops from the war-torn country by the end of the year.

 The Afghan government says it cannot afford to maintain Kandahar's power generators or pay for the fuel. Diesel supplies in the city are already being rationed and power outages will be inevitable, says the state-owned power company.

"We have no other way [of operating],'' said DABS chief commercial officer Mirwais Alami in Kabul. "If businesses cannot compete with Kabul in Kandahar, they will collapse.''

How to pay for Kandahar's power without U.S. or Afghan government funds is a major problem, with powerful tribal and political leaders already refusing to pay their electricity bills, according to DABS officials.

Revenue collection in the south has also been dented by the Taliban, who control areas along power lines.

"Taliban collect revenue from electricity in places under their control,'' said engineer Sayed Rasoul, the head of DABS in Kandahar.

The U.S. aid agency has just awarded a new $27 million, four-year project to improve electricity revenue collection and management in Kandahar. The cash cannot be used to pay for fuel. It says increasing tariffs was one way to keep Kandahar's two 10 MW generators running.

"USAID has worked with DABS to prepare users to pay for the more expensive power generated with diesel until DABS completes work on a new turbine at Kajaki and on the power transmission line,'' said Donald "Larry'' Sampler, Assistant to the Administrator in the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs (OAPA) in Washington.

But plans to increase tariffs as much as tenfold or more may be unrealistic in one of the world's poorest countries, where only 30 percent of people have access to electricity. 

You May Like

Malaysian PM Ends Vacation Over Floods

Najib Razak had been criticized for golfing in Hawaii with US president while country suffered More

Photogallery Fear Amid Remembrances for Tsunami Victims

Across continent, services and tributes acknowledge 220,000 victims of 2004 Indian Ocean disaster; region remains inadequately prepared, experts say More

Liberia Lawmaker Denies Election Manipulation

Alex Tyler said he’s being used as a scapegoat by people who are refusing to accept defeat in the December 20 special senatorial election More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Estimates Rising of Foreign Fighters in Iraq, Syriai
X
Jeff Seldin
December 24, 2014 11:38 PM
Foreign fighters are making more of a mark on the battles raging across Syria and Iraq than initially thought. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more.
Video

Video Estimates Rising of Foreign Fighters in Iraq, Syria

Foreign fighters are making more of a mark on the battles raging across Syria and Iraq than initially thought. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more.
Video

Video Russians Head Into Holiday Facing Economic Malaise

Russian preparations for the New Year holiday are clouded by economic recession and a tumbling currency, the ruble. Nonetheless, people in the Russian capital appear to be in a festive mood. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Mombasa in Holiday Tourism Slump Due to Security Fears

Kenya's usually popular beachside tourist destination of Mombasa is seeing a much slower holiday season this year due to fears of insecurity as the country has suffered from a string of terror attacks linked to Somali militants. Mohammed Yusuf reports for VOA on how businessmen and tourists feel about the situation.
Video

Video For Somalis, 2014 Marked by Political Instability Within Government

While Somalia has long been torn apart by warfare and violence, this year one of the country's biggest challenges has come from within the government, as political infighting curtails the country's progress, threatens security gains and disappoints the international community. VOA's Gabe Joselow report.
Video

Video US Political Shift Could Affect Iran Nuclear Talks

Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to resolve Iran’s nuclear crisis are continuing into 2015 after Iran and six world powers failed to agree by a November deadline. U.S. domestic politics, however, could complicate efforts to reach a deal in the new year. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video NYSE: The Icon of Capitalism

From its humble beginnings in 1792 to its status as an economic bellweather for the world, the New York Stock Exchange is an integral part of the story of America. VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from Wall Street.
Video

Video Islamic State Emergence Transforms Syria and Iraq in 2014

The emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as a potent force in early 2014 changed the dynamics of the region. Their brutal methods - including executions and forced slavery - horrified the international community, drawing Western forces into the conflict. It also splintered the war in Syria, where more than 200,000 Syrians have died in the conflict. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell looks back at a deadly year in the region -- and what 2015 may hold.
Video

Video Massive Study Provides Best Look at Greenland Ice Loss Yet

The Greenland ice sheet is melting faster than predicted, according to a new study released in the Proceedings of the National Academic of Sciences that combines NASA satellite data and aerial missions. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the finding means coastal communities worldwide could be at greater risk, sooner, from the impact of rising seas.
Video

Video US Marines, Toys for Tots Bring Christmas Joy

Christmas is a time for giving in the United States, especially to young children who look forward to getting presents. But some families don't have money to buy gifts. For nearly 70 years, a U.S. Marines-sponsored program has donated toys and distributed them to underprivileged children during the holiday season. VOA's Deborah Block tells us about the annual Toys for Tots program.
Video

Video France Rocked by Attacks as Fear of ISIS-Inspired Terror Grows

Eleven people were injured, two seriously, when a man drove his car into crowds of pedestrians Sunday night in the French city of Dijon, shouting ‘God is Great’ in Arabic. It’s the latest in a series of apparent ‘lone-wolf’ terror attacks in the West. Henry Ridgwell looks at the growing threat of attacks, which security experts say are likely inspired by the so-called "Islamic State" terror group.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid