"The ministry told us not to use the classroom any longer." Headmaster
In the school of Zakhilo, the students’ eyes often wander off from the black board to the walls of the building, where deep cracks have left their mark. The children literally fear that the roof of their classroom might come down on them, as one part of the school has already collapsed and the whole building is crooked.
“My father told me to ask the teacher not to conduct the lesson in this classroom,” says six-year-old student Noorzia. The headmaster of the school, Ghulam Nabi, has repeatedly warned the education department that a light earthquake could cause the building to collapse. “The ministry does not have a plan to repair or rebuild our school. They just told us not to use the classrooms any longer”, he says. But now that temperatures have slumped in Kunduz, outdoor lessons are no longer an option.
Built in 2006, falling apart since 2008
The school of Zakhilo is not run-down through decades of use. It was newly built in 2006, and started to fall apart just two years later. This is just one of many examples of poor quality construction work that has been conducted in the past ten years in remote or insecure areas of Afghanistan, where monitoring is difficult. Examples like this have angered inhabitants who feel that aid money has been misspent.
In the case of Zakhilo, 80,000 US dollars have been wasted. The school was funded by the Dutch government and built by the German NGO Katachel, which has been active in Kunduz for many years, assisting widows and orphans, building schools, bridges and roads and providing medical aid.
The NGO blames the local people
The administrative officer of Katachel, Mohammad Osman Mirzad, does not deny the dilapidated state of the school. He even accepts that the building does not comply with professional standards. But he blames the local people for allowing water from a nearby canal to undercut the school walls. He adds that in a contract with the village, the inhabitants of Zakhilo agreed to maintain the building.
Mirzad argues that the construction site for the school was poorly chosen. “We told the people of the village that this is not a proper place for the school, as it is uneven, but people insisted that the building should be constructed in this place.”
Stones and mud instead of concrete
To level out the foundation, a slant of up to three metres was filled with stones and mud, which was later washed out by the water. Katachel says it warned the villagers that flooding of the area had to be prevented.
But the responsible engineer from the education department, Abdul Azim, does not accept these arguments. He says that it is the builder’s duty to choose a proper location and that concrete rather than stones should have been used to level the foundation.
No hope for a new school
Katachel administrator Mirzad sticks to his guns, arguing that concrete would have increased the costs of construction beyond the fund provided by the donor. But he admits that the Dutch government was not informed about the problems at the time.
The education department demands that Katachel rebuilds the school at its own cost, but the NGO says it is waiting for the donor to provide funds for a new building. "These organizations and the Afghan government have agreed that they can be independent in their work and they do not have to show the contracts to the government," says Azim. "This is a big problem for us." The engineer argues that due to this the government cannot sue the builder as without the contract it lacks proof for deficiencies. In the meantime, the children of Zakhilo have to live with the danger of being buried under the roof of their own school.
Road of ill-repute
Another example of poor construction work is the road that connects Archi district to Kunduz. The company Ibrahim Behshati was contracted by the department of public works this year to asphalt the 42-kilometre road.
Substandard: Old drainage culverts on the road from Archi were given a new surface rather than being rebuilt. (Photos: Niazman)
But residents are complaining that ten of the 39 small bridges and culverts on the road have not been newly built as required by the contract. Instead, the old ones have just been covered with a level of concrete.
Haji Naeem, an elder from Archi, says that on parts of the road drivers are forced to pass through desert sand where they easily get stuck. The residents have filed their complaints with the department of public works, but to no avail.
The department’s director, Faridoon Jahansher, finds plenty of excuses. He says that as long as the project has not been completed, his office does not have the right to step in. While insisting that all 39 bridges and culverts have been newly built, he also justifies the poor quality of the work with the urgency of the project and the difficult security situation in Archi. “Lack of security makes it difficult to do proper construction work,” he says.
Residents in Archi disagree. Haji Naeem says that the local community had guaranteed the safety of the road workers and that he had personally received the assurance of the Taliban that they would not disturb the construction work.
Jahansher claims that a delegation including the head of the provincial council and other government authorities such as engineers of the municipality and the provincial administration had visited the road and found it acceptable.
The road surface was dug away for concreting but not reconnected.
But the delegation’s report, which has been seen by Afghanistan Today, draws a different picture. The findings are summed in clear words: “In general, the quality of work is low and does not comply with the contract requirements.”
Ten shortcomings are listed, such as the road being too narrow and the cement not thick enough and the bridges and culverts being lower than the street level.
When driving along the Archi road today, this writer witnessed that some of the culverts are already falling apart. And while the contract demands canals to be built on both sides of the road, this has not been done.
An official of the Ibrahim Behshati company said in a telephone conversation with Afghanistan Today that the firm had done a good job. Asked about the deficiencies detailed in the government report, he said: “I am not willing to discuss these with journalists.” Eventually, he hung up and could not be reached any more. His mobile was also switched off.