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FEATURE STORY

Refurbished Network Brings Power to Kabul Residents

November 13, 2012

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The Northwest Kabul Breshna Sub Station, one of the largest power suppliers to urban Kabul is a recipient of the Emergency Power Rehabilitation Project that is working to supply improved and more reliable supplies of electricity to the city.

Graham Crouch/World Bank

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Eight years ago, only six percent of the Afghan population had access to electrical power, one of the lowest rates in the world.
  • Today, a newly refurbished power network in Kabul provides electricity to many more, as a result of the Emergency Power Rehabilitation Project funded by the World Bank and ARTF.
  • People in Kabul now receive electricity almost 24 hours a day instead of three or four hours every two days.

Kabul, Afghanistan – Qudratullah Sarhady wants to bring power to his people, but he’s not talking politics. Instead, he will shimmy along high-voltage electrical transmission lines, scale sky-high towers, or do whatever it takes to keep Kabul’s newly refurbished power network functioning properly.

At 22, Sarhady is part of a new generation devoted to power production in Afghanistan. He recently signed on as part of a high-voltage engineering maintenance team that will serve Kabul, and the newly commercialized power utility, Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS). The Emergency Power Rehabilitation Project, launched in 2004 and financed by the World Bank and Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), is behind this development.

“I want to give power to my people,” Sarhady says. “Everyone knows power is really important in life. It brings brightness and I am the provider of brightness to the life of my people.”

While practicing his high-wire skills with a dozen young men recently, Sarhady said he is determined to be part of his country’s transformation. “Now, we are getting electricity almost 24 hours a day here, but before it was three or four hours, every two nights or less. This is a big change.”

It’s estimated that just eight years ago, public access to power in all of Afghanistan was only six percent, one of the lowest rates in the world. Only some 234,000 customers were officially connected to the public grid, of which about 30 per cent lived in Kabul. Other provinces had even less access, and rural areas were virtually unserved.

The power network was in a dilapidated state and in urgent need of rehabilitation. But power service was critical for the country’s economic growth, social equity, and to meet development goals.


" Power is part of life, part of all we need – for food, security, everything. "

Mirwais Samkaniwal

Power substation manager

Power is part of life

Mirwais Samkaniwal remembers being sent home, instead of sitting for his final university exams a few years ago, because there was no power in the study hall. But he persevered, and now at just 27, he’s manager of Kabul’s northwest power substation, which supplies half the city’s power.

“There were many good engineers before, but during the war, all colleges closed,” he explains. “It’s been hard to find people to get this work done.” Like Sarhady, Samkaniwal is determined to change this.

“Today, technology is important if we want to be industrialized, and power is an essential part of our development,” observes Samkaniwal. “Power is part of life, part of all we need – for food, security, everything.”

After extensive study, the World Bank and its partners agreed to launch the rehabilitation project valued at about $125 million in total. The main purpose was to provide more reliable power supply to Kabul and so it was decided to rehabilitate Afghanistan’s largest hydropower station at Naghlu, several of its transmission lines and substations, as well as distribution networks in the city.

Kabul’s power utility was deemed over-staffed, inefficient, and in need of commercialization. One early report noted the utility’s accounting system was so haphazard “each customer takes his own meter reading to the bank and the teller bills and collects the amount due…Theft and non-payment are rampant.”

Until recently, much equipment was more than 40 years old and dangerously out of date. Then, during the Taliban era some gratuitous damage was done. But at the northwest substation, 66-year-old Amanullah stood guard and no thefts happened there, he says. “They didn’t dare steal anything except our wages back then,” Aman recalls.

On the right path

After the substation’s rehabilitation started in 2006, two new power transformers were added to double generation capacity, while fresh circuit breakers, computer systems, and a new extension to the control building were added, says Samkaniwal. “Things aren’t perfect yet,” he admits. “We do still have some load-shedding and more work to do, but we’re on the right path.”

Not far from the substation, Mohammed Noor, 60, runs a small shop selling groceries. A nest of wires still runs from a nearby power pole but haphazard, unauthorized power hookups are being replaced all over the city. “Our power is still very weak here, sometimes we can’t even run a fan, but they say our area is changing next month,” says Noor.

Noor supports two wives and 20 children, and is fearful of higher power prices, but he still wants to leave old ways behind. “I want better for my family and my country, and Allah is merciful. I know we will all find a way to have more of this good power, this good life.”


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