Monday, October 13, 2008

the squatters we create

alJazeera Magazine offers a moving portrait of the mess that is Afghanistan today. The nation's capital, reporter Anand Gopal asserts, has become one large shantytown:

Kabul itself lies in tatters. Roads have gone unpaved since 2001. Massive craters from decades of war blot the capital city. Poor Afghans live in crumbling warrens with no electricity and often without safe drinking water. Kabul, a city designed for about 800,000 people, now holds more than four million, mostly squeezed into informal settlements and squatters' shacks.

Washington spends about $100 million a day on this war -- close to $36 billion a year -- but only five cents of every dollar actually goes towards aid. From this paltry sum, the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief found that "a staggering 40 percent has returned to donor countries in corporate profits and salaries."

Gopal concludes with a message that could apply to all squatter communities around the world: "This is a war to be won by constructing roads, creating jobs, cleaning up the government, and giving Afghans something they've had preciously little of in the last 30 years: hope."


Acumensch said...

Wow, look at those contrasts. I read an article a while back discussing the possibility for tourism in Kabul. It's obvious what that would do to the poor and landless.

rn said...

Great point, ACU. A few years back, the US military was crowing about the potential for tourism in Iraq, putting out press releases about rehabbing the rail line around Baghdad and the Basra airport. At the same time, Sadr City had no drinking water and no sewers.

At first I thought it was a surreal joke. Then I realized that this has been going on a long time. When Elizabeth Dole was Transportation Secretary during the Reagan years, she put out a press release lauding the money-making possibilities of tourism in outer space.

Poor and landless, you ask? Those people mentioned in the Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty?

Oh, yeah, them.

Reality is sometimes more surreal than surrealism.

Anonymous said...


i'm a reporter with the AP in rio de janeiro. i'm hoping to ask you a few questions for an article i'm working on. if you happen to see this before i reach you in another manner, please e-mail at



Unknown said...

Hi, sorry to clutter up your comment section with non-sequiturs, but I thought you might be interested in a documentary film I made about three squats in the San Francisco Bay Area.

It's called "Shelter: A Squatumentary."

The web site is:


Anonymous said...

Hi Robert,

Sorry to leave this note as a comment but i couldn't find yr email address on the site.

I'm a Toronto-based journalist currently writing a book for Random House on globalization-related issues, including some stuff on cities & informal economies. I much enjoyed Shadow Cities some time ago, and while passing a couple months in Istanbul last year spent a lot of time in various gecekondus and in Sulukule. While in Ghana this summer I reserched informal economies in Kumasi.

Anyway, I'm in New York for the next week, partly for hijinks (if those can be found here anymore) & partly for work. Thought i'd ask if I could take you out for a coffee or beer or some such.

You can email me at

You can learn more about me at my blog

Thanks, look fwd to meeting if it works out...

chris frey

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Anonymous said...

Hi Robert,

Like others here, i am trying to get in direct email contact with you, and I'm sorry to be cluttering up your comment board.

I am a documentary producer/ director in London, and I am making 3 x 1 hour programs for the BBC about slum life. I am off to Lagos next week on a recce, but it would be great if you had time for a chat before then.

I am on

All best


Anonymous said...

Dear Robert,

I thought you might be interested in this article in the Miami New Times about squatters in Miami. Since Miami is has the largest rate of foreclosure in the US, I was wondering when people would start squatting. I come from Holland were squatting is very organized, so it's interesting to see it happen in the States.