According to a report released on Wednesday, a newly built hospital in Afghanistan lacks the electricity to run more than three lightbulbs and is in danger of collapse, but despite numerous safety warnings during construction the U.S. paid the contractor the full $600,000 owed.
The shocking deficiencies present in the Salang hospital in Parwan province are detailed in the latest report from the Special Inspector-General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). Charged with oversight of the many projects the U.S. has been undertaking in the country for the last ten years, SIGAR’s findings are rarely cause for celebration. In the case of Salang, Bagram Regional Contracting Center awarded a contract worth $597,929 to an Afghan company to provide the labor, materials, and equipment to construct and funish the twenty-bed hospital in question.
According to the SIGAR report, the project began taking on patients in January of 2013 after the year-long project was completed and handed over to the regional government. The previous year, a U.S. task force inspected the site during construction and found numerous deficiencies “including water, sewer, electrical, and heating systems that were incomplete or needed repair.” Without correction, the task force noted at the time, the citizens of the Salang district would have “inadequate access to healthcare until construction deficiencies were remedied and missing equipment provided.” Despite that warning, the Shafi Hakimi Construction Company, an Afghan company, was paid in full for its services.
When SIGAR’s team inspected the hospital again in November, 2013, the final product was barely recognizable. “[T]he original design drawings called for three one-story buildings — a 15-room hospital, a four-stall toilet, and a guard shack,” the report reads, “but SIGAR found that a single, poorly constructed, two-story building had been built.” Despite being brand new, the roof was leaking, causing mold and mildew inside the building. And the two generators meant to be provided somehow became only one, which — along with the corresponding lack of the solar power system required in the contract — means that the hospital was only able produce enough power to operate one light bulb in each of three hospital rooms.
The well that the contractors were supposed to dig was also never actually begun, leaving the hospital without a source of disinfected water. “Instead, the hospital uses a small generator and small pipe to pump water from a nearby river to a holding tank in the hospital’s attic,” the report reads. “The water is then gravity fed through pipes when needed in the hospital. Hospital staff told us that, as a result, patients, including newborn infants, are washed in untreated river water.”
What’s more, the hospital is located in the second most earthquake-prone area in the country, which the U.S. Geological Survey ranks as “Level IX out of X” with regards to potential damage from seismic activity. Despite that, the inspection team found two major issues that increase the risk of the building collapsing in the event of an earthquake. The first is a vertical expansion joint, about three inches wide with no concrete or steel providing a connection between the two halves of the hospital. “In essence, the hospital consists of two separate buildings under one corrugated metal roof,” the report explains, which due to its unreinforced nature makes the building susceptible to damage.
The other is that the exterior of the structure is mostly composed of reinforced brick walls between concrete columns, the former of which are already cracking where the walls and corners connect. The unreinforced brick walls rest on the floor and extend to the ceiling between columns,” the report says. “As a result, when ground motion occurs — like during an earthquake — the brick walls are at high risk of collapse.” Missing documentation of from the contractor, Afghan government, and Americans alike prevented any sort of explanation of how the project was allowed to proceed to its current state, leaving SIGAR unable to determine that the building is structurally sound.
As a result, the Salang hospital is “functioning more as a medical clinic than as a hospital with surgical and diagnostic care,” SIGAR concludes. “The staff of Salang hospital should be commended for making the best of the limited facility. However, the hospital does not serve the medical needs of the people of Salang district as intended and may be a danger to its patients and staff because of the potential for the structure’s collapse in an earthquake.”
SIGAR’s role in rooting out wasteful spending has lead to several such stories of incomplete or insufficient projects in Afghanistan to the budget’s detriment. Last summer, the U.S. was revealed to have spent millions of dollars on a base that will never be used. That came at the same time it was shown that the U.S. had constructed a $45 million facility to repair armored vehicles that is now being used solely to sort through equipment being shipped out of the country, and $80 million spent on a State Department consulate building that was then abandoned as too vulnerable to attacks.