Kabul has grown by a factor of 10 since 2001, pushing the poor in Afghanistan’s capital to build slums on the steep mountain slopes.
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – One might say that Mir Mohammad lives in a Kabul skyscraper he built with his own hands. He moved to Afghanistan’s capital from the countryside three years ago dreaming of a better life, but had no money to buy land. So he copied other poor newcomers: He hiked up a hill until he found a piece of empty land. Kabul, a city of just 500,000 in 2001, now houses almost 10 times that number. First the city engulfed the valley floor, stretching some 20 miles. Now, like a bathtub filling with water, slums are spreading up the mountain slopes. Those perched over the city have penthouse views but poor-house lives.
Toop Mountain, where Mr. Mohammad lives, is too steep and overbuilt for vehicles. Instead, residents must climb dirt paths filled with trash that shoot straight up 500 feet. After a rainstorm, the footing is precarious. Every couple of days Mohammad pays $2 for five gallons of water to be brought by donkey. The animals also carry firewood to his two-room house where 35 relatives live. “We decided to come from Panjshir to Kabul because we had nothing in Panjshir, either,” says Mohammad, a former farmer who now digs up rocks to build a cellar. “I have five sons. For sure, if they are able to find money, they will go down and make a separate life” in the valley. “I won’t live to do so myself.”
The mayor of Kabul says the valley is full, and soon the mountains will be, too. People come to Kabul because it has remained relatively safe and farmable land in the countryside is maxed out. The UN calls Afghanistan one of the most rapidly urbanizing countries in the region. “One school of thought is to discourage people and tell them to find work in other places,” says Mayor Mir Sahebi. “The other is to create some source of employment” here. But, as far as job creation goes, “nothing is happening in Kabul. Forget about the rest of the country.”
This time ACTED assists a city struggling with “post-conflict” reconstruction and a booming urban population, as people return to rebuild lives after decades of war. Since the fall of the Taliban, urban growth has exploded in Afghanistan’s major cities. The urban population makes up an estimated 28% of the country’s 24 million people, and is expected to double by 2015. Close to four million Afghans have returned home from abroad since 2002, and many have come to Kabul looking for a chance to rebuild their life in Afghanistan. Coupled with that are tens of thousands of internally displaced people and economic migrants, who are either newly arrived in the city or are returning home after years away. They are leaving the countryside to escape collapsed rural livelihoods, drought, and fighting, and coming to Kabul to search for new opportunities.
The recent massive influx of people shows a dismal lack of Kabul urban planning capacity. Outdated policies of urban management leave large areas of Kabul seriously under-serviced, if not ignored. A growing population of urban poor suffer from a lack of basic services, adequate housing, and viable economic opportunities, with serious consequences for health and livelihoods. Insecure income sources and land status, chronic vulnerability, and undermined coping strategies trap many families in vicious cycles of inescapable poverty.
With the support of OFDA, ACTED has launched a multi-faceted shelter, water/sanitation, and livelihoods project to respond to these growing needs in District 12, a community that reflects the many challenges faced by today’s urban poor people in Kabul. The Kabul Area Shelter and Settlement (KASS) programme is an 18 month intervention which includes the rehabilitation of 1,800 damaged houses, the construction of 1,200 new shelters, the rehabilitation of 70 wells, the construction of 35 new water points, the provision of 1,200 new latrines and an intensive hygiene campaign. The project also addresses economy and markets through kitchen gardening initiatives for women, Cash for Work (CFW) opportunities, and an apprenticeship scheme for 130 youths. The aim of the program is three-fold: to respond to the increasing need for appropriate shelter, to provide infrastructure and services improving access to drinking water, basic sanitation, hygiene education, and environmental health systems, and to improve opportunities for income generating activities in the short, medium and long term.
From distributing flour in wartime to supporting Kabul’s poor as they rebuild lives more than a decade later, ACTED has evolved to meet the changing needs in Afghanistan. ACTED continued its assistance through the fighting of Mujahedeen and of the Taliban. Today, despite the counter-insurgency, we remain to support the country on its challenging road to peace and development.