By Hijratullah Ekhtyar

JALALABAD, Nangarhar, Afghanistan, April 19, 2013 (ENS) – From the outside, the building in the residential district of Jalalabad’s Do Saraka area looks like any of the family homes nearby, with children playing in the street outside.

What distinguishes it from its neighbors is the constant din of noisy machinery running inside. For the last five years, this has been the site of an plant producing aluminium from scrap.

Residents of Jalalabad, a city in eastern Afghanistan, say heavy industrial units in their neighborhoods – others include marble and gravel works and a business making pressure cookers – makes their lives unbearable.

aluminium factory

Aluminum factory in Jalalabad, Afghanistan (Photo by Perez Partensky)

“I can’t study at home because of the noise coming from the aluminum plant,” said Zamir Danishmal, a student at Nangarhar University. “We can’t rest in the day or at night. Our community leaders have complained to the authorities in Nangarhar several times, but no one listens to us.”

While Jalalabad residents complain that their city is being polluted by some 130 unlicensed factories, owners say they have nowhere else to set up shop.

The authorities have established four industrial zones on the city outskirts, but industrialists say that there is no electricity or water, security is poor, the plots are costly, and in any case the sites are handed out to favored friends, not those who need them.

Mohammad Ayub Stanekzai, who owns the aluminum factory, acknowledged that his business is a nuisance for locals but claimed that he has no other choice.

“The government-run industrial zones have no electricity and no security,” he said.

Raziq, an official from the district’s environmental department, said that beyond monitoring the damage caused by unregistered industrial units, there is little his office could do about them.

“We understand that the industrial zones have no security and no power, so we can’t stop factories from being set up in residential zones,” he said.

The authorities claim the industrial parks are nearly ready for use.

Ghulam Nabi Rahmanzai, director of the regional office of the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency, said work on one park at Hesar Shahi, east of the city, is now complete, with the transport and power infrastructure in place and 40 plots already allocated.

All it needs is an actual electricity supply, he said.

Mohammad Nabi, director of another industrial park, at Sheikh Misri west of the city, admitted that progress has been slower than anticipated. Cost constraints have hampered the provision of roads, drainage and telecommunications, and the police have only agreed to assign five officers to guard the park.

Jalalabad welding

Backyard welding in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, 2011 (Photo by Perez Partensky)

However, it is electricity that is the crucial issue, he said.

“If power is laid on to the industrial parks, I am sure industrialists will be able to launch their businesses, and they can bring in their own security guards,” he said.

Mohammad Nabi insisted that land is freely available to any industrialist who wants it.

Officials from the Breshna electricity company, which is supposed to be laying on power to the industrial parks, said they are not authorized to talk to the media.

Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, spokesman for Nangarhar Governor Gul Agha Sherzai, agreed that electricity is the biggest single obstacle to getting the industrial parks going.

“As soon as power is provided to the Hesar Shahi industrial park, we will be ready to provide security to protect it,” he said.

Such promises provide little comfort to people in Jalalabad.

One resident of the Do Saraka neighborhood, Hazrat Mohammad, 45, said the pollution from a nearby marble factory is giving his children respiratory problems.

“When we get up in the morning, it’s as if dust has been falling from the sky instead of rain,” he said.

Now looking for a home elsewhere in the city to escape these conditions, he said, “Rents are high, but I’ve decided we have to leave this area, even if that means living in a tent.”

{This report was originally published April 15, 2013 by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, IWPR}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.

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