KABUL CITY-visit it, to feel the WORTH OF DELHI

Vijay K. Saluja

I wrote, a few months back about my brief visit, to Kabul city. I had very briefly indicated, therein, how my visit over there, had me realize, in many ways, that our own Delhi, its colonies/citizens, were far far blessed, in many many positive ways.
It also saddened me, though, that how, over the years, we, the citizens & various organizations who have been entrusted with the responsibilities of its proper development, maintenance, management, governance & upkeep, have not been able to ably respond to its growing needs & dynamics of a metropolitan city! And now the damage to once a wonderfully well planned & laid out green city, was beyond repair?!

But, coming back to visit to Kabul city, as one` flight starts its descent course & approaches Kabul airport,one spots from its window, totally dry hills berefit of any vegetation what so ever & then scans, scattered all along the dry slopes, settlements- in mud bricks with mud plastered boundary walls.
One learns from reports later, that all these are informal settlements. In Kabul,the houses in formal & informal settlements constitute about thirty two percent and sixty eight percent respectively.Of the informal settlements about eighty percent are on flat land & twenty percent are located on the hill slopes. Many of these informal houses lack tenure security The houses in Kabul are overcrowded as they are shared by more than two families Approximately eighteen percent of the houses are shared by as many as three families!

Since my visit, terror has stuck Kabul many times-i) at the gates of well-fortressed Indian embassy, when the horrific suicide bombing extinguished lives of four Indian employees of our embassy-two of them-senior officers & about forty Afghans who had queued up that morning for obtaining visas for coming to India ii) in the market & many other public places.

But, for any Afghan on the street-the resident of Kabul city, this incident is nothing new, which can unnerve them!
Their city & the country has been affected/hit by war, for the last more than twenty four years! The result is-very poor urban environment, poor mobility & inaccessibility, overcrowding, poor availability of piped water, lack of sewerage , solid waste collection & disposal & high incidence of diarrhoea attack .
Twenty eight percent of total households in Kabul city use septic tanks,only 1.5 percent are covered by sewerage system, seventy one percent use dry pit toilets. Of the total amount of solid wastes generated, only about fifty percent is collected & disposed off by the municipality. It has two land-fills. Uncollected waste often blocks storm water drains, resulting in flooding of streets.
Presently the population of Kabul city is about four millions.The city has experienced massive growth since 2001,. As already mentioned earlier,most of the population growth is due to informal settlers- war affected returnees,IDPs,
Water is a very scarce resource in Kabul city as underground water is the only source of supply Electricity supply is woefully short. In most part of the city, there are no street-lights!. Kabul river & other water bodies are functioning as drains & garbage dump sites!

There is lot of unemployment & one sees no of beggars-many of them, handicapped, on the roads.

There is big presence of US & British/NATO forces. Areas occupied by their establishments are heavily barricaded with massive security presence.
With the new Government headed by president Karzai in position, since 2001, massive efforts are on in Kabul city for reconstruction & redevelopment. No of international,donors, agencies-World Bank, US-AID,UN-HABITAT, Japanese, German, Canadian, Netherlands, Indian etc etc, are actively involved along with various ministries, Kabul Municipality etc, in the massive task of reconstruction & redevelopment.

Despite all the tough times, which the locals have faced and are facing, one finds almost all of them good-natured, full of life, energy, vim & spirit- like our filmi `KABULIWALLAH`. Indian films & music are very popular among locals! Hard times have not dimmed their enthusiasm. I had the chance of meeting a no of senior bureaucrats in Kabul Municipality, Ministries & other consultancy agencies.
I, found all of them eager to learn from the ex-patriates professionals, who are there in good numbers at present & most of the locals have a burning desire to do some thing positive for their city & their localities.Though corruption is there in many areas of the public bodies[ as also articulated by their own President Karzai] but it could be. as, the salaries of the govt officials are very low . I was told, it varies from forty to sixty US dollars, per month for almost most of their employees in the government!

But, here is a city -Kabul, which wants to rebuild, from almost `ashes`-destructed/destroyed state, and here is another city-our own Delhi, whose care, we do not want to do?! It has been brought to this pass- inequity-slums, unauthorized construction, traffic jams, unsafe roads, road rage, inadequate basic services & infrastructure for sizable percentage of its population.!

Corruption, mis-governance, lack of commitment, dedication & self interests amongst some of the important functionaries of local government,dilution of values & ethics are some of the factors,as many say,responsible for this state of the city.

Some may argue-we are progressing-lot of flyovers, metro, commonwealth games, glitzy malls, good schools, posh colonies, so many cars, good hospitals & open New Delhi area etc etc.

But how much percentage of the total population of the city is benefited by it or comforted with all these infrastructure??
I am told apart from huge traffic jams, choking parking lots, even metro is packed like sardines, now, for most part of the day & with lot of pick-pocketing, snatching etc etc.
The idea is, not to paint a negative picture, but, we all-authorities & including citizens, need to do much much more.


Writer is Convenor , Social Outreach Programme Committee
IIT Delhi Alumni Association
& Senior Fellow-ISS www.issin.org