Construction Program Improves Afghans' Lives
By Staff Sgt. Robert R. Ramon, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SALERNO, Afghanistan, April 14, 2006 As coalition leaders continue their efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan and prevent the re-emergence of terrorism, they often turn to the Commander's Emergency Response Program, which lets them quickly improve Afghans' lives with low-cost, high-impact projects.
Workers build a new aqueduct system in Afghanistan's Khost province with funds from the Commander's Emergency Response Program. The program lets coalition leaders rapidly allocate resources to address local needs. Photo by Staff Sgt. Robert R. Ramon, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Such projects include rehabilitating roads and bridges, building and repairing schools, and digging wells for communities.
In fiscal 2005, which ended Sept. 30, coalition leaders spent $136 million on CERP projects. This fiscal year, coalition officials said they expect that amount to increase to $170 million - much of which will be spent by Task Force Wildcat, based here.
The task force, composed primarily of members of the 391st Engineer Battalion from Greenville, N.C., and the 145th Engineer Battalion from Camp Roberts, Calif., has overseen 17 CERP projects worth more than $1.3 million in the past three months alone.
The projects often last for up to three months and employ 40 to 50 people, typically hired through local contractors.
To request a project, villagers approach their own government officials. That's another significant benefit of the CERP program, said 2nd Lt. Scott G. O'Connor of Greenville, N.C. , a 391st civil-military affairs officer.
"CERP empowers the local government," O'Connor said. "We coordinate with sub-governors, village elders, (and) ministers of irrigation, education and public works. This helps to get the local governments on their feet and (become) able to provide infrastructure for the people.
"When an Afghan citizen says, 'We need help with this,' we want him to go through his government, to look up to his government, and to rely on the Afghan government," he said.
Task Force Wildcat's projects have included schools and clinics, irrigation canals, solar lighting, aqueducts, wells and cobblestone roads.
"The reconstruction efforts assist in things such as providing access to drinkable water, as well as water for irrigation needs," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Elrado V. Mason of Bridgeport, Conn., a member of the Heidelberg, Germany-based 18th Engineer Brigade. "The new roads also support security needs, since police and emergency response teams can respond faster when called upon. Solar lights placed in marketplaces allow for vendors to continue selling their goods well after dark."
In the village of La Wankhil, north of Salerno, the benefits of CERP can be seen firsthand. With CERP funds, the task force helped build a wall to protect the village from seasonal floods and to channel the water during dry spells.
"We were in trouble with floods before they built this wall," village resident Abdul Jalil said through an interpreter. "The wall protects us, and we're very happy with it. Many of the residents were hired to help build it, so it was an effort by the entire village," he said.
As he visits CERP sites, O'Connor senses Afghans' optimism, he said.
"We see people building more shops, selling more goods at the bazaars - money's coming in. More people are coming back to Afghanistan. It may be a slow process, but reconstruction is definitely working," he said.
(Army Staff Sgt. Robert R. Ramon is assigned to the 345th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)