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One Brick at a Time
The reconstruction of Fayzabad
By Fariba Nawa


A bridge in Fayzabad.
(Photo: Fariba Nawa)
From the plane, Fayzabad looks beautiful, with green mountains and a white-water river dividing the new and old sections of the city. But on the ground, there is not much to see.

There are no paved roads, electricity, proper hospital, or telephone service. Most of the 20,000 residents make their money or find their food by farming or shopkeeping. Fayzabad has always been a poor and pretty place. Slowly, it is becoming a modern city.

Reconstruction in Afghanistan's major cities is moving forward slowly because there are still security problems. But compared to four years ago when the Taliban was in power, much has changed for the better. The main Afghan cities have mobile telephone services, schools are being built for boys and girls and the basic standard of living is improving. More people seem to have housing, water, and electricity. Many have traded in their donkeys for cars.

The bad news is that much of the money for these improvements is made illegally. Many farmers grow opium, which is used to make heroin, a dangerous drug that is illegal throughout the world. Some farmers use the money they make from selling opium to rebuild bombed-out roads and destroyed water dams.

There are also legal reconstruction projects in the city. Many international aid organizations are helping people. The organization FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance builds roads and gives the workers who build them food for their service.

"Building roads has been a great benefit to the people because they never had roads," said Islamuddin Umidi, the deputy projects coordinator for FOCUS. "We're giving them access to markets, health centers, and other cities."

The World Health Organization connected water taps to mountain springs so that people have access to clean water on every street corner. And the United Nations Children's Fund is giving children school supplies and vaccines.

These and other humanitarian projects do not guarantee that the country will grow and become rich. Afghanistan needs peace and security first. But the optimistic Afghans say that the little steps to rebuilding, like the few streets and water taps in Fayzabad, are just the beginning of a long road to reconstruction.