Along with Dr. John Van Hoesen, Dr. Gary Hunter, a self-employed GIS consultant from Melbourne, Australia was deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan to teach GIS and remote sensing to the faculty at Kabul Polytechnic University. You can find John’s story in here and Gary sent the following email shortly after his return.
Volunteer’s voice from Kabul – August 2015
By Dr. Gary Hunter
Greetings from happy, happy Afghanistan!
I’ve been back in Kabul for a week now and I have another week to go – so it’s quite a short trip compared to my previous projects in 2011 with USAID and 2012 with UNDP. Also, this time I’m serving as an unpaid GISCorps volunteer so the work is a ‘freebie’ but it was a good opportunity to return here. The US Department of State has a two-year project to establish a 96-seat computer laboratory at Kabul Polytechnic University specifically for teaching Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing – and it also includes capacity building and mentoring. So, myself and another fellow from a US university are here to teach these subjects to academic staff at the Polytechnic University, and our work follows on from a similar visit in 2014 when two instructors from the US and Switzerland spent two weeks here teaching the staff. Our ‘students’ are all very keen and vary from Department Heads down to new lecturers. Several of them already have Masters’ degrees in Remote Sensing and GIS, and we are helping to expose the staff to our teaching materials and techniques. So it’s all for a good cause and everyone here really appreciates our volunteer work.
I also had a chance to meet with my old GIS friend, Mohammad Mosum Saifi, who worked with me in 2011 on the land reform project. He has just finished a big project for UN-HABITAT preparing the urban land use maps for the cities in the 34 Afghan Provinces. The land use maps are for the Ministry of Urban Development (MUDA) and the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG), and are completely funded by the Australian Government. The project was completed in 8 months by a team of very talented Afghan men and women, who I met and had lunch with yesterday. The land use maps are the first step in the process of creating land use plans for the cities and the official launch of the final maps will be in two weeks’ time. I mention this here because I know that some of you have an interest in the subject. Then, the next step will be to map the land use of the urban areas that occur just outside each of the cities for the purpose of eventually incorporating them into the municipal boundaries.
As for life in Kabul itself, the city seems a lot quieter than a few years ago when all the international troops were here. So far I’ve only seen two military convoys on the roads in ten days, however Afghans say the place has become far more dangerous in the past year. I visited the US Embassy the first day I arrived here and their staff no longer travel by road unless there is no other means of transport. Even when going to and from Kabul airport, the embassy staff have to travel by ‘air bridge’ (that is, by helicopter). When you arrange a meeting with them it is understood that you’ll always travel to them, as it is difficult for them to get security approval and arrange the necessary security protection to move outside the embassy.
We had a bit of excitement last night when our accommodation compound sirens went off at 1:00 am. All the security guards ‘stood to’ in their positions with weapons, helmets and body armor, as a big explosion occurred a couple of kilometers away. Everyone thought it might be a rocket attack but the Afghan news today states that it was a truck bomb outside an Afghan military establishment near the airport. I was asleep when it happened and then just stayed where I was in my room. Everything was back to normal in five minutes after the initial fuss died down, but the sirens outside your room do give you a bit of a surprise in the night (see http://www.tolonews.com/en/afghanistan/20785-full-impact-of-kabul-blast-evident-as-daylight-breaks).
Unfortunately, I don’t have any interesting newspaper headlines to include in my newsletter (like I did for my Nigerian and Zimbabwean newsletters last year) but I think you’ll like the images I’ve included.