LONDON: Afghanistan will ask the international community next month for a half a billion dollars to begin work on a “new Kabul” that will be more than one and a half times the size of the existing capital. Under plans drawn up by President Hamid Karzai’s chief economic adviser, a vast area just north of Afghanistan’s chaotic capital will become a modern city for 3m people, complete with an electric tram system and a huge central park with a mountain and artificial lake.
A world-class international airport is also planned to encourage regional companies to have their headquarters in the capital, although Afghanistan’s dire security situation and rampant government corruption have been big deterrents for foreign investors so far. The call for a new city has raised eyebrows from international donors who say the war-shattered country should not be spending scarce resources on “Kabul-centric” projects. They believe the focus should be on developing national security, agriculture and the country’s feeble economy.
Despite the cool international reaction to the Dehsabz project, large amounts of preliminary work have already been done – a detailed master plan is expected to be ready by the end of the year. The development will fill a 500 square kilometre triangle of government-owned land flanked on all sides by mountains. The existing city covers an area of 350 sq km. Rivers will be damned to provide water and electricity while solar and wind plants will help it fulfil its “eco-neutral” aspirations.
Mahmoud Saikal, the chief executive of the Dehsabz City Development Authority, says the project will create jobs and relieve chronic overcrowding in the capital. Since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, Kabul has experienced explosive growth – in one estimate the city’s population has grown from 400,000 to 3.5m in the past six years. Mr Saikal said steps should have been taken to develop a new urban area seven years ago.
“In every household we have three to four families. Sixty five per cent of all urban development in Kabul is illegal. We have a polluted city with traffic jams, overcrowding and very high unemployment.” Mr Saikal said the overall cost could be as much as $50bn (€31.7bn, £25.2bn) over the 30-year lifetime of the project, but nearly all that money would be raised by selling plots of land to private developers.-SANA