US to delay Afghan hydropower project?

All the hard work of British forces and the U.S. marines to put in place the 220-ton hydroelectric generator in Afghanistan’s Kajaki village is in danger of going to waste because of one issue — money.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has seen its budget slashed from $4 billion in 2010 to $2 billion this year, and with the U.S. Congress pushing for further reductions in the country’s foreign aid budget, the funding agency is pondering whether installing the turbine makes “financial or strategic sense.”

“Money is always an issue,” USAID Mission Director in Kabul Ken Yamashita said, according to The Guardian. “Because of things like security and costs have gone up. What we are looking at very carefully is see how we can get the most economic solution.”

British forces hauled the heavy machinery across the Helmand desert — and in hostile territory — to Kajaki in 2008. In October, meanwhile, U.S. marines carried out operations clearing insurgents in the route going to Kajaki to get USAID contractors to complete the job.

But now, Yamashita stressed the country’s need for electricity should be balanced against other infrastructure projects.

“It becomes a question of prioritising, is it Kajaki over something else in the north in the east and so one and so forth? That’s part of the difficult conversation,” he said.

The turbine is expected to raise the output of the Kajaki dam from 32 megawatts to 48 megawatts. But the addition, according to Yamashita, is not enough to meet the growing demand for electricity of people in Lashkar Gah and Kandahar. He said, however, that new transmission lines, substations and even the new turbine “could still happen, but it is unrealistic to think that to do so in a sustainable manner can be in done in the short term in a few years.”

While the agency is concerned over the costs needed to set up the generator — the third one in Kajaki if it pushes through — costly diesel generators of the U.S. army are being used to provide electricity to people in Lashkar Gah and Kandahar.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.