Conflict & Justice

Troubled Waters: The End of USAID’s Kajaki Dam Project in Afghanistan


U.S. Marine marksman Cpl. Jacob Hoag (L) of Bend, OR and his spotter Cpl. Cody Scholes of Belfast, NY perch in a sniper position over the Kajaki Dam site in this 2010 file photo. The dam was never completed by USAID contractors and will be turned over to locals.


Scott Olson

This is an update to our 2011 Special Report, Watershed of Waste: Afghanistan’s Kajaki Dam and USAID.

A year and a half after GlobalPost’s Special Report detailing USAID’s ongoing struggle to refurbish Afghanistan’s Kajaki Dam, the project will be turned over to an Afghan electrical company before it can be completed, the Washington Post reports.

Kajaki is not scheduled to be operating at full capacity until 2015 – a full decade after the initial 2005 target – as US personnel numbers in Helmand continue to dwindle under the looming 2014 troop withdrawal deadline.

Located on the Helmand River, the Kajaki Dam was once an optimistic symbol of US-Afghan historical cooperation. Built in the early 1950s by an American engineering firm, the dam had two turbines installed by 1975 with the goal of providing water and electricity to southern Afghanistan. The project was abandoned upon the 1979 Soviet invasion, but an initiative to refurbish the dam and add another turbine was restarted in 2002 when US engineers returned to Helmand amid the US invasion. Providing reliable power to Afghanistan’s volatile southern provinces became a counterinsurgency priority, with Kandahar – Afghanistan’s second-largest city and a traditional Taliban stronghold – considered a particularly crucial prize in the effort to win Afghan hearts and minds.

More from GlobalPost: Watershed of Waste, Part 1

The dam’s third turbine remains uninstalled.

It has been over two years since USAID awarded a $266 million contract to Kansas-based construction firm Black & Veatch to finally finish the dam, but completion has thus far proven elusive.

When GlobalPost contacted Black & Veatch in October 2011, the firm highlighted its “substantial record of accomplishments in southern Afghanistan” and stated that the project was “on schedule,” but have since cited security challenges that have hampered their progress.

While USAID has made clear its reform efforts to rely less on American for-profit contractors and more on local business partners to implement projects, the hand-over of the dam to the Afghans unfinished threatens to turn Kajaki into yet another example of international development failure in Afghanistan. Perceived abandonment of such a big, iconic undertaking could contribute to Afghanistan’s mounting concern over the impact of troop withdrawal on the foreign aid programs on which the country depends.

More from GlobalPost: Watershed of Waste, Part 2

As for the future of Kajaki, it does not sound like the Helmandis are holding their breath. As one construction worker told Associated Press earlier this year, “When the international forces first came here they told us, ‘In one year you will have the dam, you will have power, you will have roads.’ But that didn’t happen. ... and we are still waiting.”

And in an interview with The Guardian last month, Afghan President Hamid Karzai commented on the Kajaki Dam, saying, “It has not happened so far, much to our disappointment. It could have been done had it been given to Afghans to complete.”

Eleven years and hundreds of millions of dollars later, it looks like the Afghans are going to get their chance. 

To read GlobalPost's original coverage of the Kajaki Dam, check out our Special Report "Watershed of Waste: Afghanistan’s Kajaki Dam and USAID"