Business Hurt by Anti-Pollution Drive in North Afghan City

By Ahmad Ramin Delasa

MAZAR-e SHARIF, Afghanistan, February 3, 2012 (ENS) – The authorities in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif are running a major campaign to cut pollution, but factory owners and truck drivers forced out of the city as part of the cleanup say their businesses are suffering.

Officials in Mazar-e Sharif claim to have reduced pollution by 70 percent by forcing brick kilns and other factories to relocate out of the center, planting trees, limiting access for vehicles, and impounding older, high-emissions cars.

Bazaar at Mazar-e Sharif, October 2011 (Photo by Justin)

They have also installed public rubbish bins, and dug wells to irrigate the city’s green areas, in what they say is a model for reducing pollution levels nationwide.

Mazar-e Sharif, the capital of Balkh province, is the fourth largest city in Afghanistan, with a population of about 375,000.

Abdol Wahab drives an aging, Soviet-made Moskvich taxi, and has been hard hit by the ban on entering the city during the daytime.

“The traffic police … say our vehicles emit too high exhaust fumes,” he said. “I am fed up with this work but I don’t have other options. Mazar is a city for wealthy people who have luxury cars. There’s no room for poor people here.”

To get round the ban and earn enough to support a household of 10 people, Wahab continues to slip into Mazar-e Sharif along alleyways and side streets.

Some of those affected say that the anti-pollution measures are tainted by corruption.

Mohammad Ibrahim, a confectionary factory owner, said police demanded money in exchange for allowing him to keep his business going in the city.

“We couldn’t pay bribes every day so we had to move out,” he said.

A driver and friends in front of the Shrine of Hazrat Ali, the blue mosque, in Mazar-e Sharif, November 2011 (Photo courtesy NATO)

Relocating the factory outside Mazar-e Sharif has made it harder to transport ingredients and finished products, and for staff to get to work, he said.

Traffic police have banned trucks from entering Mazar-e Sharif during daylight, so when this reporter interviewed driver Feda Mohammad, he was sitting in his goods vehicle outside the city waiting for night to fall.

He claimed that drivers are still allowed into the city in the daytime, if they pay an illicit fee.

“How long are we going to have to pay bribes to drive … inside the city?” he asked. “No one listens to us and there’s no point speaking about the problem.”

Traffic police deny taking kickbacks while enforcing the war on pollution.

Mohammad Ajan, director of Balkh provincial traffic police department, said drivers are spreading false rumors because they are unhappy with the new rules. In reality, he said, enforcement is being monitored rigorously.

Main street in Mazar-e Sharif, August 2009 (Photo by Arabsalam)

Not everyone is opposed to the cleanup.

Brick kiln owner Mohammad Sadeq said the relocation plans initially caused arguments between businessmen and police, but these have been resolved.

“I’m happy with the decision because it has been implemented equitably,” he said.

For their part, provincial officials say they are proud of the progress made in one of Afghanistan’s more picturesque cities.

“This program has been effective,” said Ziaulhaq Atai, a senior environmental official. “We have also started programs to collect rubbish house to house, and have installed rubbish bins.”

Dr. Basir, head of the sanitation division at the Balkh provincial health department, said his agency has provided clean drinking water, as well as burying and burning waste.

“We have made great progress in the area of sanitation,” he said.

City resident Saleh Mohammad said he is happy the roads have been asphalted, which has reduced dust and smog.

“Now we have a chance to breathe clean air,” he said.

{This report was originally published on February 1, 2012 by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.