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May 5, 2003
Ohio University professor is paving the way for Afghani prosperity
By Jamie Heberling

Functional roadways and interstates are a basic need for any developed domestic country, and one that Americans take advantage of every day for work and play. Yet many nations still don't have access to such basic necessities.

Ohio University professor of civil engineering Shad Sargand is one of the nation's leading scholars on roadway systems and development. A native of Afghanistan, he is returning to his homeland to get his people on the road again. Most of the country's war-torn roads are rocky and impassable, suffocating the country's economy.

QuoteSargand's goal for Afghanistan is to help restore order in the country through developing its infrastructure, most especially the roadway system.

"Especially after Sept. 11, the roads are key to everything -- every aspect of education, economy, government and communication," Sargand says.

One of the most treacherous roads connects two of Afghanistan's largest cities, Kabul and Kandahar. The 450-mile-long stretch of pebbles and potholes, which should only take travelers eight hours by car, now takes at least 14 - thanks to dangerous landmines. This holds the economy captive while sale of exports plummet.

"It's a disaster in Afghanistan," Sargand says. "The part I am most concerned about is training people to gradually take ownership for the country's problems, such as the road system. That's the only way you get people out of mentality of war and fighting."

Afghanistan's new president, Hamid Karzai, realizes this, too. In June 2002, Karazi made a statement during his first press conference as president that Afghanistan must rebuild its roads if prosperity is the goal.

"These roads are the veins of Afghanistan, and its blood flows through them," Karzai told the Scripps Howard News Service in a Nov. 11, 2002 article. Then Karzai made a call to action for the world's help.

Four months later, workers broke ground on the reconstruction of the Kabul-Kandahar road, a $250 million project that was funded mostly by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Japan.

Sargand says despite the help being offered, a large problem still remains for Afghanistan. Most of the engineers that once lived in the country are no longer there.

"Even the ones that worked for the government went to other countries or died or were killed," Sargand says. "So, there are no capable people that can help the infrastructure."

That's why his focus is educating people to survive on their own, helping facilitate relationships between important American industries and the people controlling the roadways.

In fact, this February, Sargand invited Afghan First Deputy Minister for Rural Rehabilitation and Development Kamaluddin Nizami to Ohio to discuss exporting goods back to Afghanistan. Sargand, Nizami and representatives from plastic and PVC piping companies around Ohio arranged meetings to discuss possible exports.

"My role is to facilitate these relationships," Sargand says. "I'm not working for any group - I have an interest in this as a professional. But financially or economically, I don't. It's something I just want to do. I just want to help train and educate these people."

Sargand, who has been a professor at Ohio University for nine years, wants Afghans to have the knowledge needed to move forward. Now, Sargand, other engineering professors and experts across the nation are teaming up to provide Afghans with the skilled training required to test conditions and build roads in their homeland.

"Of course we need to develop the infrastructure," Sargand says. "But first what we really need to do is train people."

The University is already part of a consortium formed to help build the higher educational system in the country. The group aspires to facilitate the rebuilding of up to 10 universities in Afghanistan in the next 10 years.

"After we educate these people, they will learn to define problems and recognize what needs to be done on their own," Sargand says. "That's the first step to rebuilding the country."

Jamie Heberling, while an Ohio University undergraduate, was a writer for University Communications and Marketing


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