Vehicular bridge raises hopes of 2 Afghan villages
June 7, 2011
KABUL, Afghanistan, June 7, 2011 -- Two villages northwest of Kabul will be joined by a bridge allowing vehicles and much-needed commerce, thanks to the efforts of one local man and the Regional Support Command-Capital.
Afghan Mohsin Akhtari, a revered man from the village Qali-meerza, and the RSC-Capital, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, are working together to provide a bridge in the Farzah Police Sub-district that will enhance economic activity for the aforementioned village and Sorkhankhil.
Akhtari was recently recognized by Afghan President Hamid Karzai for his ongoing civic work in the district. The U.S. Army police mentors, who also serve as Contract Officer Representatives for the RSC-C, have done a lot to improve relationships with locals, said Maj. Veronica Ko, RSC-C’s Afghan National Police support operations officer.
“We are explaining our problems,” Akhtari said.
Without a bridge, getting to the other side by vehicle takes about 20 minutes, he said. With the bridge, less than a minute. “We’ve been hoping for this bridge for a long time, about 50 years,” Akhtari said.
The villages also share a walking bridge not too far from the proposed vehicular bridge.
The Farzah district is part of the Kabul Province, located about 20 miles northwest of Kabul, and is home to about 65,000 people. There are 18 main villages with smaller villages, he said.
On hand June 5, were two men from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Afghan Engineering District North -- Juan Carlos, a civil engineer and Bob Killey, a structural engineer.
“I think the challenge is going to be the steep slope,” Killey said, which will most likely result in an “S” curve be built into the road to enter/exit the bridge.
And, to stop erosion at the bridge area, a wire mesh fence would need to be built that would hold rocks along the river embankment, he said. Another remedy would use “rip-rap” bags filled with sand and cement instead of rocks, the engineers said.
Killey added that the bridge will probably be made of pre-stressed concrete as that is more available in Afghanistan than other materials that could be used.
The engineers were out checking out the area where the bridge would be built and taking measurements. What they determined was that bridge would be about 250 feet long and nearly 18 feet high.
Currently, the river now is a weak stream that is very low, exposing big rocks on the river’s floor. However, in springtime, snow melts from the surrounding mountains, swelling its flow.
“It floods once every 10 to 15 years,” Akhtari told engineers.
Commander's Emergency Response Program, or CERP, funds will pay for the project which is expected to cost $700,000, Ko said, who added the contract should be awarded by November.
CERP is enables local commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq to respond with a nonlethal weapon to urgent, small-scale, humanitarian relief, and reconstruction projects and services that immediately assist the indigenous population and that the local population or government can sustain, an Army website stated.
“It will be very good for the police and civilians,” Akhtari said. “It is very good for trade and a short way for transportation.” He added the bridge will help with security during the day and night as it would give much quicker access to people on both sides.
Akhtari likened the assistance in Afghanistan to the Marshall Plan that began in 1948, several years after World War II, which brought economic assistance that led to European prosperity.
“We’re hoping Afghanistan will be the same,” he said.
Walking down the dirt road that runs through Qali-merza, Akhtari said he donated 10 acres of land to the village for civic projects. The land was valued at $200,000, he said.
Not much has changed in the village from the time he was a youngster, Akhtari said. However, the “Taliban did burn houses and cut trees” to get rid of villagers, he said, adding his father’s house was destroyed.
In this village as others, donkeys, goats, and chickens walk around treated with the same dignity as human beings for they provide needed commodities such as transportation and food.
This is an area where people survive by growing orchards - cherry, mulberry, apples, pears, almonds, and walnuts, he said. Aside from Akhtari, no one owns land. There might be a rare situation where someone owns two acres, he said.
The land donated is being put to good use as a school was built by the United States Agency for International Development in 2006, and a veterinary clinic courtesy of France. A clinic for people is also needed, Akhtari said, since villagers have to make an all-day trip by foot to go to the current clinic.
The land he owns in the area was his father’s, who was a four-star general in the Afghan Army, Akhtari said.
“My father bought this land 70 years ago,” he said. There is still about 450 acres left.
Akhtari jokingly said he is the “president” of 11 village organizations/societies such as multi-culture, human rights, children’s rights, orchards co-op, poets/writers, and elders and chiefs.
“The president of Afghanistan honored me with a medal,” Akhtari said. “It was a good day.”
Akhtari is not your typical Afghan. He was educated at Columbia University in New York City, an Ivy League university, where he received a master’s in economics in 1976.
He spends time living in Kabul, Afghanistan and the Vancouver, Canada, area with his family. He labels himself “semi-retired” after venturing in the hotel and antique business over the years.
“I don’t work for the government. I don’t get any pay. What I do, I do for the people," Akhtari said.
The bridge, Akhtari said, will bring “a better life for the future. Life is hope. If there is no hope, there is no life.”