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H.E. Mohammad Yousef PASHTUN, Minister of Urban Development and Housing (July 01, 2005)
What are your goals in terms of urban planning?
Urban planning is important for several reasons.
First, urban areas are still the major hubs of economic activity. Business, commercial centers, educational centers unfortunately are only in the urban areas, and it will stay that way for a long time. We won't be able to transfer this to the rural areas as much as we need to.
The second issue is a very acute shortage of housing in urban areas. A third point is namely the neglect and the destruction inflicted in the past twenty-five years on major cities. Kabul is a very good example. most of our cities are short of basic services. That requires a comprehensive plan to develop services to answer people's needs. We know that it's a long-term process. In five years' time, we could research the early stages of self-sufficiency.
You are working on a national framework for urban development across Afghanistan. When do you expect to implement it?
Urban development is a continuous process. The best plan, in urban planning or elsewhere, is the one that tolerates the most flexibility. Resiliency is the best quality of planning.
For Afghanistan we have a general policy of urban planning. I do not want Afghanistan to be highly urbanized. The cost of urbanism is very high for a developing country. Definately those urban centers that are already established should be supported 100%. But as far as the distribution of people is concerned, I would like more attention to be given to the rural areas. This is because when we put too much emphasis on the urban areas, we are in a way asking people from rural areas to migrate to urban areas. Agricultural areas are always in need of extra hands; if we bring everyone to the cities we will be depriving the agricultural areas of labor while at the same time bringing unwanted people where they will be starting from scratch, straining the very limited service capacities of the urban areas. In short, I consider rural development to be the first defense line for urban development.
Leapfrogging within the framework of urban development, how are you looking at the issues of additional accommodation, environmental protection and striking a balance between nature and beauty vs. greed?
It's difficult not only for Afghanistan , under very difficult circumstances, but even for the most advanced countries. The problem is that intense development, especially if it is not controlled properly, does bring with it the negative side-effects- lack of respect for environmental beauty, environmental preservation, and even for culture sometimes. This is because the urban centers are ushering in a totally new culture and new ways of life.
As far as the mandate of my Ministry is concerned, we are only enablers; we are to establish plans as we think best. Such plans should be developed in direct consultation with the people. At least we should know what they require exactly. Once we know this, we can plan for services that will answer their needs.
This consultation with the people is the most important thing. It is also usually the general public that is most concerned with the environment, rather than individual developers. To us, as planners, our implementing partners are municipalities. The Ministry provides the plan and the municipalities in turn do the actual work through the private sector. When the private sector comes in, the question of capitalism, of greed shows up. Controlling this greed is a joint effort of the municipalities and the Ministry of Urban Planning. And we do observe and control it, to make sure that it is implemented the way it should be.
What are some of the more immediate problems your ministry is addressing?
In Kabul , themost visible problem is housing. But the biggest problem is actually transportation. From our early studies, we determined the volume of transportation in Kabul is not so high that it would require new streets or roads. Simply, the system is not properly designed. If we had a properly designed transportation system, a proper traffic system, then with a little bit of improvement, existing roads could take double this amount of traffic without much problem.
The next issue in the Kabul area is the power supply. Since the distribution system in Kabul has also been heavily destroyed, rebuilding the distribution system will take much more time. I would say six months to one year until we attain a sufficient power supply for Kabul .
Then we have the drinking water issue- an area where we are improving a lot. One project has already been completed at a cost of some 20 million dollars; there is another 15-20 million dollar project in the pipeline. So it's something like 40 million dollars' worth of projects to be completed in two years' time. We will be able to supply 80%, or at least 70% of Kabul City with direct water, healthy water.
The total water capacity of Kabul is also an issue. There may not be a great amount of water to be pumped out from the aquifers. We are trying to shift to surface water because we should actually preserve our aquifers for the future. According to established estimates, we cannot pump out more than 40 million liters a day, at a rate of 100 liters per capita per day; that means Kabul can only support 4 million population.
Another problem is sanitation, especiall the sewage system copuled with water shortage. Now we are shifting our thinking toward localized solutions for the sewerage system. A conventional system would have all teh waqter treated in one place, wheras we aim to divide the city of Kabul into five or six different areas, with a treatment area and sewers for every approximately 500,000-600,000 citizens. This would require around 200 to 250 million dollars investment.
Municipalities are sources of valuable income. But taxes, like property tax, were established something like 40-50 years back; people now are paying the same level of tax, wheras property has increased in price at least a hundred times. In spite of a hundred-fold increase in property value, people continue to pay at the old tax rate. The municipality should collect this potentially very rich revenue, and then channel this money back to develop the city, because no city can develop without such funds. Urban development must come from the people.