Why Building Stuff in Afghanistan Costs So Much

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Here’s part of the reason we’re spending so much money in Afghanistan. Just take a look at some of the pieces of a solicitation seeking a Swiss-Army-Knife complex to house a Ministry of Interior Supply Point, Fire Department, and Uniformed Police District Headquarters, in Nimroz province in the southwestern corner of the country.

Its hundreds of pages include all the contracting requirements you’d expect to find in a project slated to cost between $10 million and $25 million. But then there are the clauses — Contractors are not authorized to conduct any type of offensive operations —  that suggest this will be no ordinary construction job:

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Robert MacKay
Robert MacKay

It wouldn't cost that much if western forces with guns we not running around the countryside engaging the locals! In fact left to their own ends the locals could built the entire thing for under $1 million !


 Ok... but what's the final consequence of all that?

Wouldn't it be much more informative if somebody simply published a price list of basic goods for the end users in Afghanistan, for example: How much costs 1 m³ of masonry, 1 m³ of reinforced concrete, 1 liter of car fuel, 1 liter of drinking water, 1 kW/h of electricity, etc., so that we can compare it with prices at home?

I know more about what it costs to take 1 liter of water to the International Space Station (11.000 $ per liter if ferried by a Space Shuttle, hopefully only 2.835 $ per kg [= per liter] if ferried by the projected “Falcon 9” rockets from the private company SpaceX)

than how much 1 liter of tap water costs in Kabul, Afghanistan!


If you don't put it in the contract, the contractor can claim ignorance. "What, you mean it has to have bathrooms? And they have to drain to the sewer?" "Running water? What's that?" "No one told me that I couldn't throw a 2 inch concrete square over the ground and call it a foundation for a 3 story building..."


The ominous note at the end of the story suggests that the compound is intended for some nefarious purpose; when in fact in means just what it says:  the contractor constructing the facility must provide for security of the job site and the workforce, and that security will not include offensive operations to interdict threats off the worksite.  This is an important distinction in a country where the threats might well include not just snipers, car bombs, and suicide bombs, but also IED on the roads leading to the construction site and mortars and rockets launched from across the street.  A contractor trying to secure his work site may be tempted to take a security team to clear out the bad guys that are pulling the trigger.


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