So there is a book by the title Kabul in Winter, and while the winter is many months away, I have been thinking about it for some reason. Each day when I leave my barracks, whether there is cloud cover or not, there is a haze over the city, and sometimes, during the late summer, the dust blown by the wind is so thick that visibility is less than a mile.
But this sort of air quality is super clean compared to Kabul in the winter. As I’ve noted in earlier posts, only about 15% of Afghani homes have electricity, and while this statistic is slightly higher in the city, there are still millions of Kabul’s citizens that do not have a reliable electric supply. And I’m not so concerned about the lack of TV, radio or other appliances (however, without a refrigerator, life is difficult, right?) I’m more concerned about the lack of heat in the winter. It’s a common story from the people on the camp that have been through a winter here to talk about how the locals in Kabul will burn anything to stay warm. The sky turns black with the smoke from tires, pvc, plastic and any other material that will oxidize.
Kabul in the winter is known as the city with the worst air quality in the world.
I like to try and think of solutions to problems like this. I’m not alone. I’ve got good friends that feel very challenged by social issues like this, and I hope that everyone who hears about this problem would take just a minute to think creatively about how to solve it. I’m not so concerned with the air quality as much as the problem that drives the air quality issues – heat.
There’s a book that came out a decade ago called “Cold House.” The author had grown up in the US, but in a place where there was no electric heat. I spent some of my elementary school years in northern Wisconsin in a house that was heated by a wood stove, so I know some of the stories in this book. My dad or mom was up before dawn to get the fire going and to turn on the fan that would heat the house. My brothers and I would stand on the vents in our pajamas and wait for the fire to get hot enough to warm us up. That kind of story might be very foreign to all but a few in the United States. Unless you’ve had an extreme outdoor experience and have been very cold for a very long time, it’s hard to wrap the mind around the battle that it can be to stay warm. It’s something I think about whenever I see the homeless in Boise during the winter. I always wonder where they go to stay warm.
Yesterday, I was thinking that same question about 70% of the population of Kabul – a few million people.
The answer is that they burn stuff – anything they can. There are no forests in this area, so wood is scarce. In the battle to stay warm, they sacrifice the sky and for many, their own lives because the smoke from the plastic and rubber items they burn gets into their lungs and they die much earlier than they should.
So how would you help the people of Kabul to heat their homes for the 3-4 months of winter that is cold enough to kill?
Here’s what I came up with:
Build a pipeline with a spur to Kabul. This is actually planned, to get oil from Turkmenistan to India – but it wouldn’t have a stop in Kabul – it would go through Kandahar. I’d propose that oil be used as a base for heating oil that could be distributed in the city and burned by portable heaters.
Burn other minerals. I don’t know if there is coal in the mountains here in Kabul, but if there was, I’d propose mining it and transporting it to the residents who would need stoves that could stand the high heat.
Pellet stoves. I think that this may be my best idea. While I started thinking of other compressed wood products like logs, pellets would be easier to transport and carry by the people. The stoves that burn these pellets could be mass-produced in Kabul. I think the source for the pellets should be Russia, but I think that the Afghans should also plant tree farms like those in southern Oregon to provide wood for fuel.
Propane. Whether brought in by truck or another pipeline project – propane or butane or some other compressed gas, could be distributed in portable tanks like those you get for your BBQ. The heaters that use these canisters are cheap and easy to use. The fact that these canisters can be used as explosives puts the kibosh on this plan, but I think it’s still a good idea.
Wind power to make electricity for heat. The pictures I’ve taken show the multiple hillsides and valleys that surround this city. Wind turbines could be well-used here. On nearly every day that I’ve been here, there has been enough of a wind to keep those things running.
I don’t know, what do you think?