Kabuls Looming Collapse
PRI The World
News and Politics
January, 25, 2013
Kabubble: Kabul’s Looming Collapse
It was a Monday in November, the second day of Eid al-Adha 2011, and the streets of Kabul were free of their usual knot of honking vehicles. In Taimani, a residential district of tree-lined avenues and walled courtyards in the center of town, groups of young boys ran down the road in sandals, calling happily to one another. Older men in pale, starched robes stood in pairs, murmuring salutations as friends passed by. A boy on a bicycle carried a stack of flatbread wrapped in a black-and-white scarf; the aroma of the baker’s oven lingered in the air after he rode by.
“This area is interesting because it was never poor,” Jolyon Leslie said to me as we left one of Taimani’s main roads and headed toward a hill called Kolola Pushta. Leslie, a slight, ruddy-cheeked South African architect with a widow’s peak of closely trimmed white hair, first came to Afghanistan in 1989 with the United Nations; he has been working here ever since. “I’m absolutely staggered how things have changed,” he said, gesturing at the half-built homes around us. “Almost every compound is having, or has had, construction done.”’The aid boom of the past decade has fueled wild and haphazard growth without providing the infrastructure needed for it to last. In 2010, total aid spending was $15.7 billion — equivalent in size to the entire Afghan GDP. A decade of easy money has made Afghanistan one of the most aid-dependent countries in the world. The Afghan government doesn’t come close to having a balanced budget: during the 2010 fiscal year, public spending was $9.4 billion, against just $1.65 billion in revenues. Two thirds of the government’s payroll is covered by international donors. When the money stops — and so far the United States and the international community have made commitments only through 2015 — a severe recession will almost certainly follow. Wealthy Afghans will flee the country, and middle-class urbanites, who have made decent salaries working for NGOs and businesses tied to the aid community, will be stuck in a country with few economic prospects.’
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