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New Power Line Lights Up Afghan Capital

May 29 , 2009 - Energy Central - Bruce Pannier

The lights are on again in Kabul. And that’s no small change.

For years, residents of the Afghan capital endured shortages of electricity, with power sometimes rationed to only a couple of hours a day.

But thanks to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Afghanistan’s neighbor Uzbekistan, things are now looking a little brighter.

A new 442-kilometer Uzbekistan-Kabul power transmission line, carrying 150 megawatts (MW) of electricity, or half of Kabul’s electricity needs, started working on May 18.

The line is part of a $250 million project, partially funded by the ADB, to bring electricity from Central Asian hydro-power plants.

Juan Miranda, director general for the Central and West Asia Department of the ADB, says that until about eight weeks ago Kabul had only two hours of electricity a day. Just imagine what that electricity does to a woman and child who before couldn't boil a kettle of water and probably had to drink it untreated and probably fell sick

"Because of the line that we and others constructed, today in the city of Kabul we have in most parts of the city 24 hours of electricity a day. In the other parts where we don't have 24 hours we have at least 12 [hours],” Miranda says.

As Miranda from the ADB points out, access to a steady supply of electricity for Kabul and its people will prove a life-changer:

"Just imagine what that [electricity] does to a woman and child who before couldn't boil a kettle of water and probably had to drink it untreated and probably fell sick," Miranda says.

"Imagine a business that had to close down because after the two hours of electricity [ended] it couldn’t function, or a health clinic.”

A parallel line will soon be built along the Uzbek-Kabul route to double the amount of electricity the Afghan capital receives, effectively providing all, or nearly all, the electricity Kabul currently needs.

According to Miranda, the distribution system will have to be expanded to accommodate new supplies of electricity from Afghanistan’s neighbors.

A line from Tajikistan is being constructed now, and another is planned to enter Afghanistan from Uzbekistan’s western neighbor Turkmenistan.

Energy Dependency

However, some Afghans are concerned about being dependent on their Central Asian neighbors for electricity, like this Kabul resident, who spoke to RFE/RL’s Afghan Service.

"We got electricity from Uzbekistan and that is good news. But it’s a temporary measure. We have enough water resources in our country, for instance in Konar and Helmand, " he said.

"It would be better if [hydropower plants] in these regions became functional. It would be better if we produced our own electricity, so we didn’t have to depend on Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. One day they could say: ‘We can’t give you electricity today” or something like that. We would depend on others."

Electricity from Tajikistan, for example, would only be available in the summer when reservoirs at Tajik hydropower plants are full and generating electricity beyond Tajikistan’s domestic needs.

Some in Afghanistan fear one day the Central Asian neighbors could raise the price beyond Afghanistan’s ability to pay and the country would return to the days of power rationing.

Miranda notes that the ADB is working to develop Afghanistan’s own hydroelectric resources and is exploring the possibilities of using other forms of renewable energy .

"The best renewable source in this part of the world is going to be hydro -- small- and medium-power plants -- that don’t spoil life for communities that have been doing what they are doing for a long time and that are very efficient at delivering energy at a fairly low cost," Miranda says.

"The second one is wind and in many of these countries we have really good maps of where the wind conditions are. We have fantastic technology all over the world so putting together projects like this is not rocket science anymore and it can be very helpful, it can help people the in rural areas who are not connected to the main grid and these rural areas are where you have the bulk of the populations in these countries."


Amin Mohammad Mudaqiq of RFE/RL's Afghan Service in Kabul and Ahmad Takal of the Afghan Service in Prague contributed to this report

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