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KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Dec. 27, 2009) – The Kunar Provincial Reconstruction Team visited Nurgal village to assess a newly completed Senzio footbridge and visit the village’s comprehensive clinic, Dec. 26.
Traversing narrow roads under the watchful eyes of Nurgal valley residents, the PRT made its way to the village center to do a final quality assurance and compliance check on the footbridge and to talk to residents about their health clinic.
According to U.S. Navy Builder Chief Petty Officer David Zahm, PRT engineer, the foot bridge represents a $54,600 investment in the people of the Nurgal valley by the Afghan government and the PRT.
“This visit was to conduct a final QA/QC to determine if the contractor completed the project to specifications,” Zahm said. “The project looks outstanding…the workmanship and quality of materials used appears to be of the highest quality.”
Zahm said the contractor went above and beyond the scope of work by extending the retaining wall approximately five meters to connect it to a previous wall.
“Overall this was a good project with a quality end product. I assess the contractor as completing the requirements as stated in the contract,” Zahm said.
Said Gul, an Afghan Border Police officer, home on holiday from Helmand province, who lives in Nurgal, said the bridge was a good addition.
“We are very happy to have this bridge. It connects the communities to the clinic,” Gul said pointing to the facility on the far river bank. The ABP officer estimates that 15,000 people live in the Nurgal valley and come to the village center for commerce and health treatment.
Gul and several village elders spoke to the PRT engineers about their concern that the footings for the bridge were not dug deep enough and the bridge could collapse during a significant washout.
“We spoke with the contractor and had him dig the footings deeper than what was in the original design plans, so that won’t happen,” Zahm said to the gathered crowd. “It is strong enough to handle the foot traffic that will use this bridge for a long time.”
Brandon Toliver, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers representative to the PRT, told the villagers the bridge was strong enough for what it was designed for.
“If this was going to handle vehicle or cargo traffic, we would have to look at the structure differently,” Toliver said. “But, for what it is designed to do, it will be fine.”
Satisfied with the engineers’ answers to the footbridge, the villagers turned their attention to the clinic and voiced their displeasure with the closure of the facility.
According to the elders, the clinic closed in September when Aide Medicale Internationale, a French organization contracted by the Afghan government to staff medical clinics around the country, moved the doctors to a new clinic six kilometers away. The new clinic was built off the area’s main highway to be accessible to a greater number of people.
That left the Nurgal Valley people without a working clinic in the village and concerns for how they will get access to medical care.
“It now costs us 300 Afghanis to take a taxi to the clinic and we are too poor to afford that cost,” said Faqirullah, the clinic guard. “If we pay that money, we should just go to Jalalabad and seek treatment. Regardless, it is too far for people coming from the hills to seek help when they have to carry the injured on their shoulders. That is not how the government should take care of its people.”
U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Klint Kehley, PRT medical department supervisor conducting the assessment, told the elders and the guard to continue to address their concerns with the district government and public health ministry, and that the PRT would do the same.
“We’ll see what we can do to help get staffing back to the clinic. The villagers were told by district health officials that the previous doctors would be moved back to the clinic when new doctors were hired for the other clinic, but to date nothing has happened,” Kehley said. “We’ll take this information back with us and make recommendations to the minister of public health and relay the concerns of these people.”
“But, we want the villagers to take an active role in their government and encourage them to continue to speak with the district sub-governor and AMI about this issue,” Kehley said.
The Senzio footbridge contract was awarded in December 2007 and construction began in July 2009. The project needed time to secure land rights to construct the bridge, but once work began the contractor hired several local laborers to build it in a little more than six months.
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