U.S.-Built Schools in Afghanistan Pose “Potentially Life-Threatening Risks”
A new U.S. report finds that two schools the American government built there put students and teachers in harm’s way, writes Josh Rogin.
Two schools that the U.S. government built in Afghanistan are so unsafe that they are placing the lives of Afghan students and teachers at risk, according to a U.S. government inspection.
“An urgent safety matter has come to my attention that I believe requires your immediate action. Specifically, I want to alert you to potentially life-threatening risks at the Bathkhak School addition in the Bagrami district, Kabul province, Afghanistan,” John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), wrote in a letter released Wednesday to ISAF Command Gen. Joseph Dunford.
The SIGAR office, which oversees U.S.-funded reconstruction projects in Afghanistan, inspected the school and is preparing a report, but felt the need to alert U.S. officials to the construction problems at the school immediately because the danger to the students is imminent.
“Specifically the school's interior and exterior walls appear to be insufficiently constructed to hold the weight of the concrete ceiling,” Sopko wrote.
The ceiling and roof were made of concrete, not wood and sheet metal as the contract specified. The brick walls of the school may not be able to support that ceiling, and because the area is earthquake prone, the school might collapse if there is any seismic activity, according to the SIGAR office.
“In light of these construction flaws and the distinct possibility that an earthquake resistant design was not used, we have serious concerns for the safety of the hundreds of faculty and children that will be using the classrooms at any given time,” Sopko wrote.
Citing a “serious risk” that the building could collapse,” SIGAR is asking the U.S. government not to transfer the building over to Afghan control and to alert the Afghan education ministry that the building is unsafe.
In a separate letter, Sopko wrote to the head of the Army Corps of Engineers and the leadership of USAID to alert them about another unsafe building built by the U.S, the Sheberghan teacher training facility in Jawzjan province, Afghanistan.
This building is at risk of erupting into flames due to substandard electrical wiring, SIGAR found. The building also has poor water and sewage systems that could pose health risks to the people there.
“SIGAR inspectors found that the facility's electrical wiring does not meet the U.S. National Electrical Code as required by the contract and other problems that create potential electrocution risks and fire hazards for its occupants,” Sopko wrote.
That building is still under construction, but the Afghans have already begun using it, according to the letter. SIGAR plans to go back and conduct more extensive inspections at both sites, but Sopko didn’t want to wait before warning U.S. officials that the two sites were dangerous and steps need to be taken now.
“Given the potential harm to the students, faculty, and others who are occupying the Sheberghan facility, we believe USAID should take all necessary and appropriate measures to address the safety risks discussed in this letter as soon as possible,” he wrote.