British mineral extractor Aggregate Industries UK is playing a key role in sourcing aggregates vital to the regeneration of war-torn Afghanistan. Claire Symes reports.
Decades of conflict have left Afghanistan's infrastructure in disarray. Many structures are bomb damaged and public buildings have been stripped by local people desperate for material to sell, burn or add to their own homes.
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), based in the capital Kabul, is developing a two year programme of rehabilitation and restoration for the country. But reliable, long term aggregate supplies are needed to allow construction work to start and the British Army, acting under ISAF, asked UK quarried products supplier Aggregate Industries to provide technical assistance.
Aggregate Industries general operations manager John Shenton and engineering manager Martin Owen were on a military flight to Kabul within days.
Shenton says: 'The army asked for assistance with three main targets: the securing of 2,000m 3of aggregate for immediate use;
identification of quick impact construction material supply projects to be funded by the Department for International Development (DfID); and to give a strategic view for long term developments.'
Afghanistan is still a hostile place with a high degree of lawlessness. The Royal Air Force only flies into Kabul at night, with aircraft landing lights switched off for security.
Once on the ground, Shenton and Owen were issued with body armour to protect them from potential sniper fire while outside the army compound.
'Processed aggregates are available in Afghanistan but usually only in small quantities and their quality is highly variable, ' says Owen. 'The army wanted us to find and classify aggregate resources for different uses so that it can ask locals to go and get 'x' number of lorry loads of material from a particular site.'
Shenton and Owen studied maps and satellite images of the area around Kabul to identify potential aggregate resources worth investigating on the ground.
With the help of interpreters, local people working with stone were asked for information on sources and extraction methods.
Staff at Kabul University's geology department were also approached.
Shenton says: 'There are vast alluvial sand and gravel deposits as well as igneous aggregate resources around Kabul but methods of abstraction are very labour intensive and certainly do not take into account the kind of health and safety precautions that we're used to in the UK.
'Most of the explosives used to blast hard rock are stripped from the plentiful supply of land mines and unexploded ordnance which lie all over the country.
'Almost all quarrying machinery has either been damaged or robbed for parts.
During our visit we only saw one working excavator and that was very slow.'
ISAF is keen to stimulate the local economy and hopes that encouraging aggregate extraction will boost employment. DfID is also looking to fund projects which reduce dependence on imported materials, such as cement from Pakistan and Iran.
During their visit, Shenton and Owen identified a disused 1950s Russian built precast concrete panels factory as a potential project for DfID or other international funding. With about $47M of aid assistance, the 40ha factory site could be redeveloped as an asphalt, ready mixed concrete and block factory to supply the local area.
Conditions for Kabul's 1.5M people are very basic, with no mains water and an intermittent electricity supply.
'They've got nothing but their faith and a great determination to rebuild their country, ' says Owen. 'All the people we met were enthusiastic about what we were trying to do and were keen to be involved.'