Should the U.S. Agency for International Development continue handling power projects in Afghanistan?
This question has been the subject of debate in recent weeks, most notably between Glenn Zorpette of the IEEE Spectrum and Connie Veillette of the Center for Global Development. While these U.S. experts disagree on solutions to Afghanistan’s energy woes, both agree that USAID’s capacity to run large infrastructure projects in conflict areas might indeed be questionable.
USAID finally spoke out on the issue. In a letter published July 17 in The New York Times, Alex Thier, assistant to the USAID administrator for Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs, said Zorpette’s conclusion on the agency’s alleged inability to manage large electrical projects is “based on faulty assumptions and ignores the evidence.”
Thier listed down the agency’s achievements in Afghanistan power sector, specifically the doubling of collections and revenues resulting from USAID’s creation of a national utility and the reduction of fuel subsidies by $150 million.
The USAID official also stressed his agency’s success in helping generate 24-hour electricity in Kabul, diversify power sources, and rehabilatating the Kajaki hydroelectric dam.
While he conceded that working with Afghan partners can be slower, Thier said the approach is far more cost-effective and sustainable and is “the only way” that the U.S. will successfully transition responsibility of funded projects to the Afghans.
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