recent photo above of the brick works at Kabul illustrates the immense
smoke problem. Kabul the capital of Afghanistan; pop. 700,000. It
is situated in the northeastern part of the country, with a strategic
position commanding the mountain passes through the Hindu Kush, esp.
the Khyber Pass.
30, 2005, 10:12AM
A MATERIAL CHANGE
Many of Afghanistan's brick factories are standing idle despite a
post-Taliban war reconstruction boom
OLD WAY OF LIFE CRUMBLING AWAY
By DANIEL LOVERING
Dozens of towering, mud-walled ovens dot an arid plain near the Afghan
capital, yet most are cold. Only about 20 emit the thick black smoke
that shows they are pursuing their purpose — baking bricks.Just
four years ago, the open-air factories on the southeastern fringe
of Kabul bustled as builders bought up thousands of the pale brown
bricks to supply a construction boom after the fall of the hard-line
With international aid agencies, U.S. military reconstruction teams
and private citizens now opting more for concrete, business has waned
and many of the 150 ovens stand idle.
"People want to have concrete houses, not mud," said Bashir
Ahmad, Kabul municipality's deputy director for policy and planning.
The city's complexion has changed. Concrete office buildings and bungalows
have emerged alongside structures pocked with bullets from more than
two decades of conflict and the tumbledown mud-brick houses that have
traditionally crowded Kabul's streets.
"At the beginning, the demand for bricks was so strong that we
weren't able to produce enough," said Amir Mohammed, 48, who
has made bricks in the area known as Houssinkhail for nearly 40 years
and owns four of the giant beehive-like kilns.
"Now our business is getting worse day by day," he said,
adding that one of his factories operated at a loss during July of
about 18,000 Afghanis, or about $360 — a substantial amount
Many Afghans now prefer concrete or cinder blocks because they last
longer than mud bricks.
Also, concrete denotes higher social status and impresses relatives
and neighbors, residents say.
In poor districts where people can build for free, particularly the
steep mountain slopes that circle Kabul, homes are still mostly made
In other parts of the city, homebuilders are turning to concrete for
floors and pillars while using bricks for the walls.
Many of the brick factories in Houssinkhail sprang up during the post-Taliban
Mohammed said the 20 or so that are now operating produce 75,000 to
130,000 bricks during an eight- to 12-day firing period.
Making bricks takes weeks. Laborers shovel clay from the ground, add
water and use wooden grids to shape the bricks.
Then they are stacked inside the ovens and around chimneys, drying
and hardening as workers stoke blazing fires around the clock with
wood, coal and sometimes rubber.
After being fired, the bricks are set out to cool for five to seven
days before they are delivered to customers.
Even during the 1990s, when civil war and then Taliban rule slowed
Kabul's economy, Mohammed said he employed 70 workers a day.
Now he has just three on his payroll, earning about $4 each daily.
"I just hope our business will come back again," he said.