By Stephen Kaufman, Washington File
Durani, Afghanistan -- Afghanistan's road connecting its three major cities is a lifeline for Afghans in the town of Durani and other rural areas. But this lifeline connecting Kabul in the east, Qandahar in the south and Herat in the west was largely destroyed during more than two decades of conflict in Afghanistan. Now this vital artery is being rebuilt, with international help.
The United States has given $80 million towards the rebuilding of the road. Japan and Saudi Arabia are each expected to contribute $50 million towards the project.
Vehicles traveling on the road, much of it no more than an uneven layer of gravel or dirt, can move at only 45-50 kilometers an hour, making the 480 kilometer drive between Kabul and Qandahar a one and a half or two day trip. Once paved, travelers will be able to drive 80-85 km per hour, and shave the journey time down to seven hours.
On February 23, Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Frederick Schieck visited the small town of Durani, located on the road between Kabul and Qandahar, to meet with local officials and see view the progress of the road construction project.
Accompanied by Brad Hanson, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, and Craig Buck, USAID's Country Director, Schieck sat down with the group of villagers and told them he "wanted the chance to ... see how you view what is happening - whether you've seen that the improvements are being made in a way that you would like."
"When the United States agreed to provide financing for this road, we did it because we know that it's a very important road in Afghanistan. President Karzai was very strong in urging us to move ahead with the financing for the road," said Schieck, who had previously gone to inspect the road on a trip to Afghanistan in October 2002.
In the new USAID-constructed schoolhouse where the meeting was held, the Durani residents confirmed the importance of the road to their village.
"Yes, it will affect our lives in a positive way," they all said. "Everyone goes to Kabul for their purchases of supplies and food."
Reminding Schieck that the road shoulders are also important to Afghans walking or using animal transportation, the residents asked Schieck how wide the completed road would be.
"We have had a lot of casualties on the side of these roads since our local inhabitants are using the sides of this road for their travel. So if it's wider, it would be nice and we can avoid these casualties," said one of the residents.
USAID's Craig Buck told him that it would stretch 11 meters across, including .75 meters on each side for the shoulders.
Construction by the New Jersey-based Louis Berger Group, which has been contracted by USAID to rebuild the road, has yet to begin in earnest due to the winter snow and rains. But grading and compaction equipment are already in use. "The paving will start in a couple of months when the weather is better," said Schieck.
The Kabul-Qandahar segment of the road is expected to be completed in 2005, according to USAID.
The Durani residents thanked Schieck and USAID for the new school in which they were meeting. They also requested a health clinic to serve the area, and offered to provide the labor to build the facility if USAID gave the funding and supplies.
The road construction will help to make medical centers in nearby Kabul much more accessible for the residents. The road project is also expected to employ some of the local populace, providing badly needed jobs, as well as facilitating the work of those now employed as truckers.
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)