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Afghan Capital Faces Energy Crunch


Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, faces a crippling energy shortage with basic electricity only available six hours a day. Officials say demand is soaring, but international support for the city's energy needs is being cut and widespread power outages are expected throughout the coming winter.

Abdur Rahim, 23, uses a metal crank to help kick start the old Russian generator he keeps behind his leather shop in downtown Kabul.

He says the city only provides electricity from six in the evening to midnight. During business hours, he says, the only way to run his shop is to generate the power himself.

The Afghan energy ministry predicts the situation will get worse in the months ahead.

Mohammed Amin Munsif, Afghanistan's deputy minister for energy says Kabul does not have the budget to purchase fuel for its massive diesel generators.

Without that additional support, he says, the entire city faces energy cuts during the bitterly cold winter.

"We will be faced with a lot of problems," he said. "The people will be too cold and the people are too poor. All the children and the eldest men and women they [could] die from this weather."

International aid to purchase fuel has fallen this year, aid workers say, as other priorities are being addressed. However, several countries, including the United States are donating millions of dollars to modernize and expand Kabul's electricity infrastructure.

But Munsif says that so far no one is stepping forward to fill the breach in providing fuel.

Electric outages are already becoming more frequent throughout the ancient city.

Kabul's international airport is now running almost entirely on backup generators. Even the Ministry of Energy is in the dark most of the day.

The city's business leaders warn the problem is spiraling out of control.

Akam Khan Hamdard works with Afghanistan's International Chamber of Commerce. He says nearly 80 percent of all local businesses have to generate their own power using expensive diesel generators.

"So this is increasing the production cost, the per unit cost in Afghanistan, which is destroying the economy. And on the other side we are in tough competition with China, Pakistan and Iran," he noted.

Hamdard says attracting foreign investors to Kabul is hard enough given the ongoing violence. Without electricity, he says, it is almost impossible.

The Afghan government says it is working on long-term plans to increase energy supplies for the city.

An international project is under way to import electricity from neighboring central Asian states but critics say it could be years before any electricity actually reaches Kabul.

International donors have pledged more than $10 billion for Afghanistan's reconstruction. But local residents say that so far they have not seen many improvements and frustrations are mounting.

Back inside his shop, Abdur Rahim says he spends at least five dollars a day on fuel for his generator. In a country where the average income is less than $1 a day, he says, something has to change.