Housing Crises in Kabul City
In the invitation of the governments of Afghanistan, Mr. Azadzoi traveled to Kabul in May of 1996 and then in July of 2002 to
survey and investigate the damages in the city of Kabul. In 1996, a few months before Taliban takeover, the Kabul airport was not
functioning, traffic barely existed, pavement roads none existing, pit holes everywhere, most neighborhoods were vacant, almost
1/3 of Kabul was destroyed and leveled to ground; public buildings, schools, and cinemas were closed and with no windows,
doors, and glasses..
WAR DAMAGED BUILDINGS USED BY REFUGEES AS SHELTER
Only a few neighborhood in Kabul was safe to go; downtown
Kabul, Macroryan apartment buildings to the east, Shar-e-Now
and Wazir Akbar Khan to the north, and Khairkhana to the west.
These neighborhoods were safe to move around only during the
day time. South of Kabul from Deh Mazang to Darualaman and
west of Kabul from Kabul University to Qargha were
un-inhabitable and were not safe to travel during the day time.
90% of the buildings in these neighborhoods were destroyed
and leveled to the ground.
Macroryan 4-5 story apartment buildings were occupied but
were without electricity, running water, sewer, and heat. 2-4
families occupied one apartment and each family lived in one
room and shared the kitchen (cooking area). Worth mentioning
that electricity did not exist in the whole city. Some places like
the Intercontinental Hotel used a generator for electricity for only
a few hours a day. Fear and sign of mis-trust was felt in
people's faces. Many had grown beard.
In July 2002, the Kabul airport was open and the Ariana Afghan Airline started a few flights from Dubai to Kabul. Kabul Terminal
was still without electricity and ventilation system. Roads were still the same but under repair and patch work. Traffic was visible
and sidewalks were full of pedestrians. It was safe to travel to south and west of Kabul, but visitors were advised to travel
during the day time and with security guards. Electricity was on and off an only in a few neighborhood for a few hours a day.
New businesses and stores were opening. Almost all of the non-taxi vehicles belong to UN and International employees and
foreigners. Refugees who were returning from Pakistan and Iran were searching to find their lost homes in the rubbles. Some
had bagun to repair and patch their roofs, walls, and windows.
Kabul in the 1970's estimated to have a population of about half a
million people. Its size remained within the 5 kilometer (3.1 miles)
diameter from the center of the city, Pol-e-Pagh-e-Omimi. The two
mountains, Asmai and the Sher Darwaza, cut the city almost in half into
the north-west and south-west Kabul. The Kabul river flow in between
the two mountain from west to east.
A Master Plan prepared by the Russians in the late 1960's bagan to
be implemented in the early 1970's. According to reports, this Master
Plan was designed for a city of a million population. Today, the
population of Kabul estimated to exceed 4 millions.
The City of Kabul has grown in every direction without planning.
Informal housing quarters have spread to mountains and agricultural
land. Traffic is congested and polution is widespread throughout the
city. There is no canalization system in the city. Surface water and
sewer run over the streets and sidewalks. The air is poluted.
Between 2002 to 2007, a large number of refugees returned back
from Pakistan and Iran. Some who owned a property find it difficult to
claim back the ownership becuase the property may have been sold
and handed over several times in several form of documentation to
several people. Those who found their property and proved to be the
righful owner, began re-building their property. For most of the
returnees the option was to settle in vacant lands and pitch their tents
or to find shelter in abandoned damaged buildings.
After September 11, the United States intervened directly in
Afghanistan by sending troops and shaping a new Intrim government.
The re-building process bagan and world attention focussed on
Afghanistan. The problem was huge and enormous. Afghanistan
needed to be rebuild from its foundation.
Even before the wars, Kabul had
never met the need of housing for its
population. But at least everyone who
lived in Kabul had some access to
some form of housing to be called
home. Electricity existed and was
available to all. Water was available
for daily consumption. Roads, some
paved and some unpaved, existed.
And, there was no homeless and no
family lived in temporary shelter like
tents and abandoned buildings.
Today, Kabul is facing a daunting
challenge in providing housing for the
number of people live in Kabul. The
population is increasing every year
and the authorities cannot meet the
challenges of providing basic
services such as water, sanitation,
transportation, electricity and public
facilities such as schools, hospitals,
and shopping areas.
Generaly, one can find three types of housing patterns in Kabul; a) Formal
housing patterns developed by the Municipality, b) Informal housing patterns
developed gradually by the people, and c) traditional type housing development
that existed and informally developed during times. This included the Old City of
A- Formal Housing Development:
Between 1940s to 1970s a number of
residetial neighborhoods were planned
by the municipality outside of the Old
City of Kabul. This included
Shar-e-Now, Wazi Akbar Khan,
Qala-e-Fatehullah, Taimani, and
Khairkhana on the North; Karta-e-Char,
Karta-e-Ce, Kota-e-Sangi, Celo, and
Jamal Mena on the South and East,
and Noor Mohammad Shah Mena. The
pattern of these housing development
was based on simple grid iron layouts
and rectangular lot divisions of various
sizes ranging from 200-400 square
meter. Typically two story house
plans, European style, was enforced
to be built in these lots.
Traditionally, people builts walls,
2-meter high on property lines to
enclose their lots. Authorities
enforced a minimum of 1-meter side
set back requirement for the location
of the house from the property line.
Many have voilated this requirement
and built their houses attached to
their property lines and some back to
back with their neighbores.
In the 1960s and 70s, the Russian architects and planners were mainly
responsible for developing a number of residential neiborhoods proposing 4-5
story apartment buildings.These apartment buildings were made of pre-fabricated
concrete panels of approximate size of 3x4 meters hinged together.
The project was proposed to house
10-50 thousands medium income
government officials. It was financed
to require a minimum of 10%
downpayment and a monthly
payment of principal with no interest.
It tuned out that many of the high
income families moved to these
apartments. These apartment
buildings had 2-4 bedroom units with
a kitchen and 1-2 bathrooms and
balcnoly. There was no elvator. Inner
stairways leaded to 2-units on each
floor. There was no second means
of egress which is a voilation of the
International Building Code (IBC)
today. A typical unit layout was
made up of a living room, a kitchen, a
bathroom, and 2-3 bedrooms. Some
units had a dining room. Almost
every unit had a balcony. There was
hot and cold running water in all
units. All units were heated by hot
steam radiators, but no
air-conditioning. These buildings
were badly damaged during the
1990s civil war in Kabul.
B- Informal Housing Developments
As Kabul bacame attractive in the 60s and 70s, many people moved in from
other cities and villages to live in Kabul. The Municipality was not ready to
respond to provide and develop additional housing neighborhoods to
accommodate the increased population. Kabul was attractive for two reasons;
economically there was job opportunites for everyone and there was relatively
a better standard of living and pleasure in Kabul.
Skilled and unskilled labor
constituted most of the job market.
There was also many public job
opportunities as all the government
institutions and Ministries located in
Kabul. There were many boy's and
girl's schools, Kabul University (the
only University in the country),
attractive shopping centers,
bazaars, and market places,
cinemas, and hospitals. Many
villagers moved into Kabul from
other parts of the country as
farming and husbandry became less
profitable due to drought and lack of
This population increase caused the
city to grow in every direction with
any prior planning. The settlement
took place mostly in the outskirt of
the city. Some moved into the
mountain slopes surrounding Kabul
Typically, the houses were one story high, mud brick, or mud (pakhsa), flat
roof, walled, and very congested. There was no planned utility distribution, but
almost all development received electricity, water, telephone and access
roads, some paved, some unpaved. There was no sewage system and
garbage collection and polution was the major concern.
C- Traditional Housing Development
Afghanistan predominantly remained
as a rural soceity in the 20th
Century. Urbanization took place at a
slow pace in the late 1970s but
certain cities like Kabul grow much
faster in the 1980s. The wars in the
80s and 90s not only disturbed the
growth pattern but also brought up
many unfortunes that left Kabul as a
Over 90% of Afghanistan population
lived in villages and towns that were
planned 5 to 10 centuries before.
The Old City of Kabul has a long
history that dates back to pre-Islamic
era. Until 1990 there was over
100,000 people lived in the Old City.
Houses were compact and attached
to each other with 4 to 3 story high
with narrow allyways.
In the countryside, the hosues were
built as clusters where an extended
family and a kin lived together. Qala
(a large residential compound) is still
a popular form of housing where an
extended family build a fortified
walled compound and several family
lived inside in separate sub-divisions.
Post-War Architecture and Housing
After September 11, Kabul housing market jumped almost 10 times up. A house
in Shar-e-Now that was rented for $400 per month before is now $4,000 per
month. The value of the property increased at the same rate. Decent houses
were scarce and the clients were almost all foreigners and aid workders.
People began building new houses and repairing the existing houses. Most of
the owners were Afghans who returned back from US, Europe and neighboring
countries of Iran and Pakistan.
With the coming of the Afghan
Immigrants from overseas after
20-30 years of absence in the
country also came new style of
architecture. In the 60s and 70s
Kabul residents built modern
European style houses in the high
end residential neigborhoods of
Wazir Akbar Khan, Shar-e-Now,
and Karta-e-Ce. (see above,
Section A- Formal Housing
Developmetn Photos). These
houses were formed and shaped
using reinforeced concrete slab
floor, overhangs, and parapets.
Many of these houses still exist and
the owners began repairing,
painting and upgrading. Others who
found their houses destroyed and
damages during the war beyond
repair, decided to demolish and
start new construction. Some
found vacant lands and begin
building new houses. In 2003-05,
the housing market was hot. Rent
of single family house with 4-5
bedroom jumped to $7,000-$10,000
per month. For foreigners and aid
workers, Kabul became one of the
most expensive city to work and
live. On the contrary, in other
sections of Kabul in the south, and
west which was not considered to
be safe for foreigners, the rent
remained low,; $100-$500 per
month depending on the condition
of the house. Some converted their
single family houses into guest
houses and added meals, laundry,
and security. Therefore, one house
was leased to several individual on
The new style of architecture that
is introduce to Kabul housing
market has been brought from two
countries; Pakistan and Dubai.
Many of the Afghan marchants and
businessmen spent their times
during the wars in
The new style of architecture is generall very rich in decoration, colorful
and lots of details in columns, overhangs, facade, and window. It is less
European but more Eastern, but one may not consider it Afghan style
neighboring countries. Some may have been raised and grown there. When
they came back to Kabul, they hired masons and builders who also were raised
and spent their times outside of Afghanistan. So it is obvious that they built
what they know how to build.
From BAD to WORST
I met a team of Developers from Iran who invited me to visit their site and
see the model houses they built and that they are planning to market and sell
to Kabul residents. Three or four types of single family, one story houses
were built. They were 2-3 bedroom units with a kitchen and bathroom. They
were built on vacant land near the old Macroryan Russian apartment building
on the North East of Kabul
These houses were built of
concrete blocks, cement plaster
inside and outsie, with heavy paint
coloring on the interior and exterior.
The roof was made of light steel
frames, some light steel trusses,
foam core insulation panels and
bituminous sheet roofing. The roofs
were sloped slightly and the
window sills were high for privacy
reason. The ceiling was sloped
and open to exposed shiny
insulation panel covers. The floor
These units were priced from
$20,000 to $40,000, not including
the land and cost of utilities to be
Village Housed in the outskirt of Kabul, Paghman
Informal Hill top houses around Kabul
Informal Housing Development in the outskirt of Kabul
Various Housig development in the center of Kabul City
A house in Shar-e-Now that was built in the 1930s-40s
New Style Architecture and Housing in Kabul City