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USAID/CDM Project in kandahar

“How I can pray to my God,” my mother was crying one day – Fazal Ahmad, director of Power Department (for the last six years) in Kandahar explains. The entire Kandahar province did not have electricity for one week a year ago. This meant that the pumps at the water department were not working and more than 800.000 people in Kandahar province did not have water. When the 80-year-old woman, Fazal Ahmad’s mother, wanted to perform absolution before a prayer, even her son, the director of Power Department was not able to do anything: It is our duty to wash our body before we pray to God, otherwise our prayer will not be acceptable, explains Fazal’s mother. She and 800.000 people from her province were in a very miserable state due to the routine failures of the water supply system. This is why Fazal Ahmad requested for CDM to install a diesel generator for the water plant in Kandahar. The same request also came from the Mayor, and Abdul Wahab Hamraz, director of CAWSS (Central Authority for Water Supply and Sanitation) in Kandahar. In response, USAID emergency programs with the help of CDM made it possible for an American generator to finding its way to Kandahar water plant.  



Water Problems in Kandahar

Central Authority for Water Supply and Sanitation (CAWSS) was designed by Japanese in 1950’s. It is equipped with a transformer, four booster pumps, a reservoir, and two backup generators. Gul Agha, the pump house operator has worked for CAWSS for the past 20 years and went through all the regime changes. Gul Agha explains: Whenever power was cut there was no water for the city. The broken down backup generators could not supply the needed power and nobody could repair them either due to the lack of spare parts. Even if they could repair them, they used too much fuel and we would not afford it. In addition, the transformer and the cabling could only power two pumps at a time. People use to come to my house, and ask about water, they believed I had it diverted to my house. But I also had to send my children to go more than one kilometer to get water.

One of the solutions that CAWSS provided was hauling water to neighborhoods in its only mobile water tanker. When the tanker went around the city, the kids and women ran, fighting and pulling each other, to get to the first of line. They had to go a long distance to get water while carrying heavy containers and sometimes staying in line for hours. Therefore, the children were usually late for school. When power was re-established at night Gul Agha and all his colleagues had to go back to water plant to distribute water.




No power, No water

Kajaki Hydroelectric Power Station produces electricity for the two provinces of Kandahar (population 800,000) and Helmand (population 600,000). This station contains two 16.5 MV turbine generators which is not sufficient to support the population. Fazal Ahmad, director of Power Department explains: The main problem in our city is shortage of electricity and in turn water, since CAWSS depends on us for powering their pumps. In the winter, the demand for power is higher, so we have to shut down parts of the network to prevent overload. Apart from that, we also have to shut off electricity for repairs. We have only one hydroelectric dam, one transmission line and one substation for distribution.  When there is a problem, most districts do not have electricity. Our power Lines are also old and overloaded. They break often, and are not easily repaired. We also have difficulty getting to power lines due to land mines and anti government factions that want to destroy the power department’s capacity to turn the people against the government. Apart from all this, due to the harsh drought over the past four years, there has been much less power available from the dam. This in turn resulted in lack of power and hence water at homes. People were calling Fazal Ahmad and protesting shortage of power and water. Even though it was the water department’s responsibility to solve the water supply problem, the blame was always placed on the Power Department and me.  


An American company in Afghanistan

Dynatek is a California based American equipment provider (pumps, generators, instrumentations) which is constantly increasing its presence in Middle East. Because of the USAID waiver, the company found it very difficult to sell American products in Afghanistan. Dynatek was the only American company in the region that provided American industrial equipments.

Robert Mojave, director of Dynatek Afghanistan Explains: Since we came to Afghanistan, in March 2002, we have been in constant contact with Foreign Aide agencies, various United Nations agencies, USAID and Afghan Ministries to provide support for projects relating to water and industrial infrastructure. However, German and Japanese government agencies have a strict policy of buying German and Japanese products. They have indicated to us clearly that American companies have no chance of taking part in their projects. After German and Japanese governments, ironically we got the worst response from USAID. A USAID representative indicated to us that American products are generally five times more expensive and have no support in the region! Both statements are of course baseless. American products may cost more (in short term) than Pakistani low quality equivalents but we are competing and expanding all around the world. In addition, unlike Pakistani suppliers that appear and disappear into thin air, we have been around for the past 17 years and are committed to provide support for our products. USAID representatives were even reluctant to provide us with information on their projects so we could at least take part in the tender process. The common replay was we do not have anything and call us in 14 days.  At one point, we were told that there are no projects available even though we knew they just signed a contract two days before. “I am not sure if they were actively trying to mislead us or if they were genuinely incompetent!” In either case, we were very frustrated and wrote a letter to US Ambassador Finn, and our congressional representatives.  I believe this letter played some role in Ambassador Finn’s decision to have an American generator for the USAID/CDM project in Kandahar. I also like to mention that unlike USAID, US commercial services were both very helpful and forth coming. It is hard to believe these two agencies are both part of the same department.


Buy American

Ken Choquette, Chief of Party of CDM Afghanistan, arrived in Kandahar in August of 2002 to implement USAID’s emergency water projects. Before his arrival CDM engineers conducted an initial assessment and determined a new generator and transformer for the plant were priorities. Choquette’s first step was to meet with the mayor of Kandahar to confirm the problem: The mayor was very weary of all the complaints. He specifically requested a quick solution. Even though I was thinking there were higher priorities to correct the problem in the long run, I assured the mayor to respond quickly to eliminate his immediate concerns. At that time, I was not aware of any USAID policy to buy American equipments as CDM had a waiver from any such policy for Afghanistan.  The “buy American” policy was reinstated for the purchase of this particular generator due to a complaint letter written to a US congressional representative by Dynatek Machines Incorporated. I met Robert Mojave and Fred Shafi (Dynatek representatives) in the Ministry of Urban Development coordination meeting where they offered to provide us with a quotation. I accepted the bid since they were the only American company with a reasonable price and the commitment to follow through. Even though a similar non-American generator could have been purchased from another country in the region for less, Dynatek provided safe transportation to Kandahar and the important five year spare parts package. They even brought an engineer directly from Cummins (Manufacturer) to certify the installation and train the local staff on operational maintenance and minor repairs. Hence, this generator is currently under a one-year manufacture warranty and it is probably the only generator in Afghanistan with such a service. More over Dynatek’s presence in Afghanistan further insured they could provide after sales services.


The Assessment

In August of 2002 Dynatek came to Kandahar for their assessment. It took them two weeks to gather accurate information about existing equipments and the actual configuration of the plant. During the past 25 years of ongoing war and repeated changes in the government, most engineering drawings and documentations were lost. In addition, the few plans that survived the wars were outdated and inaccurate. There were undocumented changes made to the plant by Russians, Taliban, and NGOs during the past 25 years. Robert Mojave explains: It is difficult to find knowledgeable people in the government. The very few people that partially know what is going on, are difficult to identify and even harder to contact. I had to go to their offices many times before I could find and speak to them. In the end after gathering scores of conflicting information, I finally decided to excavate the plant and visually inspect and verify the existing configuration. The two Japanese generators were designed to work in tandem to generate enough power for the plant. However, one was simply beyond repair and the second generator even if repaired (which would cost too much) was unable to handle the load. The rings and the engine block were badly worn and the engine consumed enormous quantities of oil. There was also inadequate compression in the engine causing reduced power and excessive fuel consumption. The capacity of the transformer and the cables were also inadequate to handle the load. Both the cables and the transformer were constantly over heating. It appeared that they were replaced during the Russian era since they were both made in East Germany. The cables were unarmored, patched up and were either placed in shallow ditches or on the surface creating a major electric shock hazard. The Diesel fuel tank, which was probably made in Pakistan, was leaking and creating a major environmental hazard, especially in a water plant.



From California to Kandahar

Finally a proposal was submitted, and accepted by CDM and Dynatek started the process of bringing an American generator to Afghanistan. Cummins (manufacturer) had a six-week manufacturing time and transporting the generator from US would take at least another six weeks. This would stretch the projects execution period beyond the deadline. Robert had to persuade another division of Dynatek to give up a generator, which was already built and intended for a hospital in Southern California. They agreed and the generator was shipped from long beach California to Dubai, and flown from there to Kabul. From Kabul to Kandahar, the generator had to be transported by truck.  


We had three options for getting the generator to Kandahar.


1. We could either ship it to Russia and then rail it through Turkmenistan to northern Afghanistan and truck it through Herat to Kandahar. This route was both safe and cost efficient but it would take too long.


2. Ship it to Pakistan and then truck it through southern Afghanistan to Kandahar. This route was also economical but there were some safety concerns in southern Afghanistan. In addition, corrupt border guards in both Pakistan and Afghanistan could cause major delays.


3. Ship it to Dubai and then fly it to Kabul and from there truck it to Kandahar. This route was relatively safe and fast but very expensive. It increased the generator cost by about 20 percent.  


 The road from Kabul to Kandahar was horrific, and the trucks that transport goods through this road are not used to transporting sensitive equipments. Fred and I decided to escort the truck personally From Kabul to Kandahar to keep an eye on the driver. We spent 51 hours driving a 500 kilometers (about 300 miles) distance. We had severely underestimated the condition of the road. In some stretches, we had to force the truck to slow down to five kilometers (3 miles) per hour for hours on end. The only reason that cars stay on the road rather than going off-road was presence of land mines.  On the second day of the trip, we were stopped at a checkpoint in Zabul province and were threatened by a 16 years old soldier aiming an AK 47 at my head and releasing the safety. Fortunately his commander came and pulled him away. Finally, after three days of hell, the generator arrived in Kandahar.




Generator installation

Dynatek replaced the generators, the transformer, and most of the cables and control equipments. They also produced detailed plans for the entire compound. They constructed cable conduits, a transformer pad, and a new tank and enclosure. Dynatek also replaced a high-tension electric pole and isolator switch. Robert Mojave explains: For a project this scale, there is a shortage of suitable equipments in the country. Unloading a 7200 Kg generator from the truck and placing it on the pad took us two days and much nerve. In US, it would take one forklift and five minutes. We had to use two ten tones manual cranes and 30 people to lift and position the generator on the pad. The installation of the 600 kg muffler required even greater care. The muffler had a special heat resistant paint that if scratched could not be repaired in Afghanistan. We had to use plastic ropes to protect the paint. If the muffler would slip, it would definitely destroy the generator and probably cause severe injury or even death of our workers. This of course was our primary concern. We had to take safety of labors into account and it appeared we were a lot more concerned about their safety than the laborers themselves. It took much effort to explain to the Afghan supervisors that safety is a priory. However, due to lack of appropriate equipments I was forced to accept an Afghani master craftsman’s idea for him to clime the muffler to maintain the balance and attach the support belts. He was later sitting up there and smoking a cigarette. We completed the generator installation without any incidents.





Working with Afghan labor

Any work that was done unsupervised almost always had to be re-enacted, even though the same people could do a superb job once they were told exactly what they needed to do and were supervised during the whole process. Construction activity in Afghanistan is not as easy as it initially seems. Even though labor and material are very economical, the afghan labor needs constant supervision. I had to constantly monitor the work to make sure they do not destroy the equipments or take shortcuts. This was a relatively small project thus we did not have enough time to train the supervisors properly. As long as they got the job done for that moment, they were satisfied. They paid absolutely no attention to details, static, and quality of work. The whole installation took about two weeks including a test phase. We did not change the 20 years old pumps and panels. There were four different groups of equipments patched up in the plant.  Some original Japanese, some East German from Russian era, some Iranian-Chinese hybrids from the Taliban time, and some various equipment installed by different NGOs. We had to connect all of them together, switch from the old system to the new one, and make it all work in one afternoon so there was no major interruption to the services. What in US is considered a normal day’s work, in Afghanistan, with substandard, old and patched up equipments is considered a substantial achievement.


Working with the local Government departments

Kandahar Power Department does not have sufficient isolators in the network grid. This prevents most parts of the network from being disconnected selectively. Electric department has to shutdown the entire city to repair some segments of the network. There is also no communication with people at the tower and hence there is no way to ensure that the electricity remains shut .Therefore Workers do not have enough time to do a proper job. Sometimes we were torn between putting a laborers life further in danger by forcing them to work properly, or accept a substandard work and put the life of others in danger in the future. When the Power department technicians installed the 20 KV high-tension cables and the isolator switch improperly. We had to force them to reinstall it again, despite our concerns for their safety.



Performance based compensation without discrimination

During the whole process of installation, Dynatek was trying to teach American management to Afghani contractors. Jan Mohammad is an example of this. Jan Mohammad was not able to find a job on the labor market. He was trying very hard every day but he did not have a chance. Jan Mohammad has only five fingers in both hands and in a labor market flooded with healthy unskilled labor, no one would give him a chance. Having a sick wife and no money for medicine, he walked into the water plant looking for work and was personally hired by Robert Mojave. He turned up to be one of the hardest working people in the group. Robert Mojave Explains: The contractors always pick the healthy looking laborers but once you are selected, As long as you show up, you will be paid the same amount. Furthermore, it is considered boorish to fire someone just because they do not work. This is the type of management that has been embedded into the work culture during the communist era. This discourages hard working people and promotes steeling from work. This is specially evident among bureaucrats and government employees. The supervisors generally do not care either. They simply assigning more work to the hard working people and ignore those who do nothing. Starting with 12 laborers, close to the end we ended up with six people but were getting more work done. I was constantly monitoring the workers and by the second day had a good idea about their attitude and performance. The hardest working laborers were getting bonuses (up to three times their pay) and those who did not work were fired. Out of this six remaining laborers two were handicapped. One had lost part of his foot from a land mine explosion and the other had a total of five-fingers in both hands. Those two turned up to be amongst the hardest working people we had. The person with five fingers was initially sick from malnutrition, but he was still working very hard. After the installation, I gave him a temporary job cleaning the plant until I could find him a better job. I wanted to show a little percentage of the population the way things can be done. Give a person a chance even if they have some handicap. Compensation based on performance and without discrimination. This is what made this project a success to me.




What happens now?


Gul Agha: Now that we have a generator, we feel a lot more comfortable. However, we still have a problem with leaks in the network. When there is a power failure, there is no pressure in the network and because of leaks, contaminated water re-enters the pipes. When power is resumed, this contaminated water is pumped to the people. The network was built in 1952, and was badly damaged during the war. With the new generator, we have the pressure, but we still have the problem of contamination.

Fazal Ahmad: I was excited when I saw the generator and the transformer. Our city is crippled, No legs, no arms. Any small improvement gives us hope. We are not lazy, but we do not have the means. Just help us to stand on our own feet and we will do the rest. We still have problems with our electricity, but at least when we have to shutdown the electricity for repairs, the water plant has a generator and can supply water for the city.








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Last modified: 02/09/04