New road bringing opportunity to isolated area in Afghanistan
Stars and Stripes August 9, 2006
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan — The road into the Darye-Koglami River Valley is rocky, incomplete and, in some areas, just barely passable even for the strongest off-road vehicles.
It’s also the first reliable route out of the valley that locals here can remember, and it might mean a whole new economic opportunity for the region.
The path is the result of 16 months of work between the Parwan Provincial Reconstruction Team and local contractors. Around $100,000 U.S. dollars paid for construction of a bridge and retaining wall, while Afghans from the area did the work and carved connecting roads out of the mountainside.
Both sides still need to build another bridge before the road is complete, but for the valley villages, which sit more than seven miles away from the province’s main paved highway, it’s already a dramatic improvement.
“This will mean better security because police can get to our villages and better education for the children who need to walk to schools here,” said Abdul Zaher, a district representative in the provincial parliament. “And it will help with the marble quarry. Before the bridge and the road, we used donkeys to carry the stones and there were a lot of problems. Now we can use trucks.”
That’s good financial news for the area and the province. Most of the 45,000 residents in the province work as farmers or for the new government, if they have a job at all.
But the marble quarry could be a whole new industry in the region. Haji Shah Muhammed, a district leader who lives near the quarry, said the mines contain two types of common building stones and a rarer, blue marble.
Zaher said operations are very limited in the quarry now because of the transportation issue. But more than 200 locals will start working at the quarry upon completion of the road, and more jobs could come if the mining is successful.
Maj. Don Johnson, team leader of the Parwan PRT, said the new work should keep the route from flooding out, and locals have gone beyond what U.S. officials asked for in the project, recognizing its importance to the area.
They’ve widened roads in tricky sections and built up roadsides in others before coalition officials pointed out the problem areas.
Zaher said farmers will be able to more easily get their crops to market and workers in nearby cities will cut down on their mountain-climbing commutes.
“And others will be able to go out and get jobs now,” he said.
The final bridge work is scheduled to start in the next few weeks, and is expected to take three months to complete. U.S. officials hope to create a reliable passage through the mountains before winter.