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Residents of Mountain Slopes

The hills and mountains of Afghanistan have been used as a refuge from natural disasters and conflicts for thousands of years. However, those surrounding Kabul – such as Sher Darwaza, Asmaei, Tappa Zomorod and Khayr Khana - have taken on a far more practical application as homes to an estimated 1.5 million people.

These areas, initially intended to act as green spaces within the city, soon became the locations for a booming population. Enayat Sani, an official with the Kabul Municipality, attributes the boom to the movement of the Afghan population into the city following two decades of civil war.

Following the end of the conflict in 2001 this population remained within the surrounding area of Kabul and subsequently constructed more long term accommodation.

Without the authority of an effective centralised government, field commanders from the conflict took advantage of the ambiguous political environment to seize this land and distribute it among their own supporters.

The problem was then further exacerbated after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 which subsequently led to the return of tens of thousands of migrants from the neighbouring countries.

Unable to cope with such an overwhelmingly rapid growth in the population of Kabul the government has found itself in a difficult situation. The land itself has not been approved for residential use and lacks any form of municipal organisation.

This has resulted in the creation of unauthorised and unplanned residential areas without even the most basic practical provisions, such as an adequate sewage or water system. But with no other suitable accommodation available the government cannot provide alternatives for these residents.

According to Mohammed Azim Azimi, an expert in urban geography, the inhabitants also face the serious problem of earthquakes, as well as flooding during the rainy season. Last year seventy houses were severely damaged during the rains.

However, Enayat Sani believes that the current situation is only temporary and the shock of this massive boom is slowly being dealt with. Whether these new slums are temporary or not, concern has been raised about the preservation of historical monuments in the area.

As a former centre of the Buddhist religion and civilisation Kabul holds a number of unique historical monuments which he fears could be damaged by the new settlements.

He points, for example, at a two thousand year old wall by the mountain of Sher Darwaza which has been severely damaged due to continuous foot traffic along the nearby path.

In the multimedia report on this page we hear from a number of the residents in the mountainsides around Kabul who talk about life in these harsh conditions.

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