Mr. Mahmoud Saikal - Senior advisor & Acting CEO of Dehsabz City Development Authority
Question: May I ask what your role in the Dehsabz City project is?
Mr. Saikal: For the past couple of years, I've served as the Senior Advisor and CEO of Dehsabz City Development Authority (DCDA). The Authority is headed by a board which brings together key instrumental and decision making people, including the President's Senior Economic Advisor, the Minister of Urban Development, the Minister of Agriculture, the Mayor of Kabul, representatives of private sector and urban specialists, and urban economists. The Board makes decisions on policies and strategic matters, and my role is to lead the practical aspects of the project.
Question: May I ask how the concept for the new Dehsabz City came about?
Mr. Saikal: The idea was first formulated in 2002. The Ministry of Urban Development invited three Afghan specialists from Europe to come and have a look at how best we could overcome the population density problem in Kabul. The three members were famous Afghan architects and planners, Mr. Abdullah Breshna, Mr. Nasir Saberi and Mr. Abdullah Ali. The three had a close look on how to overcome the population density, in particular to deal with the return of the refugees from Pakistan and Iran that caused the population of Kabul to skyrocket in 2002- 2004. Of course their solution was to take the population out of the capital and to encourage settlement in satellite cities. They made a tour of certain sites around Kabul and right from the beginning Dehsabz area was identified as a good choice among others. Later on in 2006, the Afghan President established an independent board to have a look at this issue and then JICA was invited to come and assess Kabul and all of the pertinent areas. JICA sent a team of experts in 2006 and for several months the team worked on various issues. One of the key recommendations of their report was to establish a city in Dehsabz. In 2006, I was the Deputy Foreign Minister and then I left the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in September in 2006. Immediately I was invited by the board to play a role in this new project because they knew that by profession I was a senior architect - trained in Australia. One of the first things that we did was to establish Dehsabz City Development Authority (DCDA) so that the board would have an executive body.
Then we commissioned a French company called Architecture-Studio and its European partners specializing in areas such as water, transport, environment and so on, to do a concept design, so that people would understand what do we mean by a new city. Some people thought that we were building another Dubai or New York City - it was nothing like that. The company, after about six months of hard work and close consultation with the DCDA, submitted a vision document, a financial projection document, a physical model at 1:20000 scale, and for the TOR for preparing the master plan and the feasibility study of infrastructure. Then throughout 2007, we negotiated with Japan and eventually in December 2007 we signed a memorandum of understanding with JICA. JICA put together a joint venture consisting of four Japanese companies and sent a very strong team to Kabul to work with us on the master plan and also on the study of water. This project by itself triggered the interest in doing a master plan not only for Dehsabz but for greater Kabul, ie. the new city and the existing city. So since March 2008, JICA has been working with us closely putting this master plan together. In February 2009, they completed the master plan for the new city. The work still continues on the completion of the master plan of greater Kabul, which of course includes the new city. Also work still continues on the water study for greater Kabul. Hopefully, the final master plan for Greater Kabul should be completed by September this year. But I do emphasize that the master plan for the new city is already finished. And on the 23rd of March, we presented the New City master plan to the Afghan Cabinet, and the Cabinet endorsed the master plan and its implementation strategy. So as we speak, we're working on the implementation plan: where to start, what should be phase one, what should be phase two...
Our priorities include a range of things which should move parallel to each other. They include, starting with the main infrastructure, in particular water, roads, energy and sewage treatment plants. These are the key elements and among them, water is the backbone of the project. At this stage there is Japanese interest in supporting the water and road elements of the infrastructure. I'm in Tokyo to discuss the ways and means of Japanese support towards the infrastructure of the city. We've also seen some interest from the Asian Development Bank. Our discussion is in the very early stages, but there is clear interest from the Asian Development Bank. We have put a pilot project together, which includes 5,000 housing units and it is crucial that we build this pilot project to international standards. It's the responsibility of the DCDA to take care of the infrastructure of this pilot project, of course with the support of the international community including Japan. But ultimately our pilot project will go to a competitive tender and will turn into a private sector venture, once we build its key infrastructure. We will appeal to those who would have interest and we will advise investors from the private sector from Afghanistan, the region, and other countries around the world including Japanese investors for the development of various phases. Whoever makes a successful proposal will win the contract. We will control the development of the city, hopefully, with five documents: the master plan, the urban development guidlines, the building code, the business plan, and the DCDA Act, which is a piece of legislation that we're working on and may require going through the Parliament. We intend to see the new city up and running by the year 2025 if everything goes according to plan, which is not a simple thing, but we have done our best.
What are the advantages of this project? The advantages of this project include taking care of population density of Kabul, which is the mother of major problems of existing Kabul. The new city has the capacity to ultimately take three million people, but we've designed it now for 1.5. It will generate hundreds of thousands of jobs. Between now and the year 2025, it can generate up to half a million jobs and that's the kind of job creation that we wish to see to make a difference in the lives of Afghans. We know that the unemployment rate is very, very high in Kabul. Tens of thousands of our youths, skilled and unskilled, are wandering around without jobs. This project has the potential to respond to the housing crisis in the capital. Ultimately the city can deliver 250 thousand housing units. Almost, at the very least, 50% of land of the new city area is government land. So through sales of land and leasing of commercial land, and through the collection of taxes, we can generate revenue. In five to ten years, we can generate, at the very least, six billion dollars according to the preliminary studies we've done. And hopefully we can use that money to build the infrastructure of the new city and also to take care of the reconstruction and development of the existing Kabul. Also, another advantage of the new city extends to the local population of 100 thousand people who currently live in the new city site. We intend to work with the local inhabitants of Dehsabz. We intend to keep the rural and agricultural character of the city so that most of these villages will be preserved to the degree possible during the new city project. We intend to clean their current water systems, improve irrigation, improve their agricultural productivity, and to deliver some basic services to these villages such as schools, clinics and so on. To the north of Dehsabz, we have an area called Barikab. This is part of the new city, but it is a commercial agricultural area. There are three main reasons why we've set it up this way. Number one, the people living in the new city will need food and we need to generate it ourselves. Number two, we need to generate permanent jobs and this will provide the scope to generate these new jobs. Reason number three, through commercial agriculture we want to introduce new agricultural technology so that the people from the surrounding areas, where we have the most fertile ground available, can come and see for themselves how best they can improve their agricultural productivity by introducing new technology. Not only the surrounding areas, but people, peasants, and farmers from all over Afghanistan could come and have a look at what we're doing here.
Question: Are you able to say which four Japanese companies have been working with JICA?
The one which is spearheading the group is Recs International. Others are Yachiyo Engineering, CTI Engineering International and Sanyu Consultants. We share an office together in Kabul and we feel as true partners working with Japan. There's a big difference in Japanese aid. I think that under Japanese aid you can feel an equal partnership and we've enjoyed that very much. We're very thankful to Japan for its cooperation in this project. Last March, the Afghan Cabinet extended a vote of thanks to Japan for its support towards the new city.
To me there is a political and social message here as well: a message of hope for the younger generation. This is a long term project. I think if we succeed in this endeavor, our youth won't have to run away from Afghanistan. We are bringing the good of the outside world to Afghanistan for them so that they can enjoy the same facilities and services that we have in this part of the world, the same kind of standards - international standards, a better quality of education, a better quality of business. And of course this being a private sector operation, the door is open for potential investors in almost any sector you can think of. Whether it is infrastructure, water, road, energy, or any other type of investment you could think of, there is room in this project. And I think that this project will help bring security to the younger generation. Providing jobs means protecting our youth by preventing them from falling prey to terrorists' recruitment. I think it's a multi-dimensional project. It is a project that may trigger a positive trend in Afghanistan, and also it's a project that could turn Afghanistan into the business hub of the region. It is the kind of project that could help the connectivity of Central Asia to South Asia and the Far East to the Middle East. If we intend to turn Afghanistan into a business hub, we need to have the facilities to do so; this project has the potential to make new business facilities in Afghanistan.