Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Paved Roads a Positive Legacy of Afghan War. but Who Fixes Potholes?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Paved Roads a Positive Legacy of Afghan War. but Who Fixes Potholes?

Article excerpt

For most of Mohammed Tahir's 68 years, he lived on an unpaved strip of road in Afghanistan's capital that had no drainage. Most winters he navigated the freezing mud barefoot rather than ruin his shoes in ankle-deep slush. He remembers when taxis refused to drive down the road to pick up family members during medical emergencies.

"They all said the roads were too bumpy for their cars," Mr. Tahir recalls.

Yet about 10 months ago Tahir's street finally got paved, the result of a collaboration between the Afghan government and Japan. Like many Afghans, especially those in Kabul, Tahir has seen his life radically change thanks to paved roads.

In 2001, Afghanistan had less than 50 miles of paved roads. Today, 8,000 to 10,000 miles of Afghanistan's roads have been rehabilitated or improved. In Kabul alone, the mayor's office estimates some 575 miles roads have been paved in the greater metropolitan area, with plans for more in the coming year. The international community bankrolled much of the paving, with the US alone contributing $2.36 billion.

The roads, a legacy of the 13-year US-led war against the Taliban, have eliminated many longstanding problems that added a layer of misery to a country in conflict since the early 1980s. The paving efforts have not been perfect, even failing in some places. But they have connected and transformed a number of cities and their commerce. Major roadways like the Kabul-Kandahar highway turned what used to be overnight journeys into manageable day trips.

Despite these improvements, many roads built in the early phase of the war are now in disrepair with severe potholes, both from wear and tear, as well as from roadside bombs in insecure areas. The World Bank now estimates that 85 percent of Afghanistan's roads are in "poor shape and the majority cannot be used by motor vehicles."

Maintaining roads and highways has so far proven an unsustainable domestic challenge. Regulating the large, overloaded trucks that use the roads and wear them down has been difficult; today many of Kabul's streets are in dire need of mending.

Yet among those living on newly built roads in Kabul, the fresh pavement has changed lives. …

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