Asia

The crumbling Afghan prison built with US cash

  • 11 June 2014
  • From the section Asia
One prison building has already been demolished following flood damage
Image caption One prison building has already been demolished following flood damage

An Afghan prison built with millions of dollars of American money and already crumbling has once again raised questions about the effectiveness of US aid in the country.

A report by the US Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, Sigar, says that Baghlan prison in North Eastern Afghanistan needs major repairs, just 18 months after it opened.

Baghlan prison sits on a sandy plain, ten miles drive from the nearest settlement.

As you approach it, the facility appears impressive, a self contained village covering an area of around 4 sq km.

Image caption A US watchdog says that Baghlan prison was build on a floodplain
Image caption Several prison buildings were rendered useless after cracks appeared in the walls

But once you get past the security guards, it doesn't take long for problems to become apparent.

Large parts of the facility resemble a building site. There are cracks in walls and some buildings are deserted.

According to Sigar's report, building settlement occurred just a few months after the prison was finished in late 2012.

Cracks appeared in three major buildings, including the maximum security housing and one building had to be demolished.

Gene Aloise, Sigar's deputy inspector general told the BBC that poor oversight by the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) meant that the prison wasn't built to proper specifications:

"The way it was build with brick and mortar is not really a good way to house prisoners because they could probably scrape through the walls and break out." he said.

Image caption A aerial view of Baghlan prison provided by SIGAR identifies three problem buildings, one had to be demolished

Wrong place

It's a big headache for the head of the prison, Mohammad Yahya Qara who told me he fears things could get worse.

"This site has not been a very good place to build a prison," he says. "All around there are mountains and monsoon rains and floods always threaten the prison."

A few months before the facility was opened, a major flood engulfed the site.

The Afghan company which constructed it, Omran Holding Group (OHG), says it was such flooding as well as other factors outside its control, which led to the damage.

The president of OHG, Mohammad Naser Ahmadi told the BBC that when they handed the building over, the Americans evaluated it as "outstanding".

"We had all the material, the concrete, the reinforced bars tested. We always had our quality check teams on the site," he says.

But INL the US agency which commissioned the prison believes that the ground was not properly compacted before building started, leading to the problems.

While both sides try and work out who foots the bill for the extensive repair work, the approximately 700 prisoners are left to live in overcrowded conditions.

Image caption Baghlan prison was designed for 495 inmates, but now holds over 770
Image caption A guard inspects one of the derelict cells at Baghlan prison

Blackout

Inside the buildings it is dark. There is little electricity and irregular water supplies. The place is stifling hot and depressing.

There were many complaints from the inmates I spoke to:

One prisoner, Mohammad Yunus said conditions could hardly be worse: "It is not hygienic, it is hot and we barely have drinkable water," he told me.

Another prisoner bemoaned problems with the water supply and electricity cuts.

Such complaints chimed with what Sigar inspectors found: apart from the structural problems, their report highlights a lack of proper maintenance at the prison.

For example two generators meant to power the prison have broken down because no-one knew how to look after them properly.

Repair work is under way now and a US aid programme is training mobile maintenance teams to look after Baghlan as well as other Afghan prisons.

But questions remain over the effectiveness of US Aid and the way projects are implemented.

Asked how much money is wasted through problems like those observed at Baghlan prison, Gene Aloise, Sigar's deputy inspector general simply says "Too much".

"We've seen a lot of this," he told the BBC. "Practically with every one of the audits and investigations we find some major problems because of lack of oversight by the implementing agency."


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