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Kabul copes with lots of people, little water

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This is a city under siege, not from the Taliban, but from itself.

Kabul is home to 3.4 million people but has no public sewage system. Piped city water reaches only 18 percent of people. Daily power cuts last from dawn until 4 p.m. in the winter – longer in the summer.

Once renowned for green gardens and quirky bazaars, Kabul is sinking under the weight of its own citizens. More than a million migrants have flooded into the capital city since the 2001 fall of the Taliban, seeking a job and a better life in the big city.

In all, the population of Kabul has nearly doubled in seven years, straining a metropolis still riddled by the bullet holes and bombed-out roofs of many years of civil war.

Larger than the next 10 largest Afghan cities combined, Kabul estimates its most basic needs require $55 million this year; its budget is $4.5 million. Residents complain, but they cope. Despite the smell of sewage and mile-long walks to get drinking water, Kabul finds ways to function.

Yet more than five years after the international community pledged to help rebuild this tattered capital, the hard work has hardly even begun.

"Thirty years ago, everything seemed to work here, but there were not the population pressures we see now," says Pushpa Pathak, an adviser to the Kabul Municipality. "And since then, there has only been destruction, not construction."

Thirty years ago, Kabul was a charming city of 750,000 that drew hippies and exotic travelers to its quiet streets lined with pines and poplars. By 1999, however, the population had hit 1.8 million, and from 1999 to 2004, the city grew at a rate of 15 percent a year, according to World Bank estimates.


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