As the deaths of New Zealand soldiers in Afghanistan's Bamiyan province have reignited the public debate on the withdrawal of Kiwi troops, two New Zealand energy companies are staying put.
The Timaru companies were this month awarded an $18.6 million contract to build a sustainable electricity network for Bamiyan city and have no plans to pull out.
Sustainable Energy Services International (SESI) and Netcon Ltd have partnered to build the Bamiyan Renewable Energy Project, funded by the New Zealand Government's international aid programme.
Tony Woods, director of Sustainable Energy Services International, said the deaths of five Kiwi soldiers in the region over a two-week period didn't change his commitment to the project.
“It's obviously very sad. Some of my staff knew the soldiers. But does it change our assessment of the risk? No. It is something we already knew about.”
And although Bamiyan province has a reputation for being more peaceful than the rest of Afghanistan, Woods said safety in Afghanistan is a relative thing.
It is also a work environment he has come to enjoy.
“I like a challenge, there is never a dull day at the office. It's fun.”
But not everyone enjoys working in Afghanistan.
Pete Sandston, of Auckland, was the project's engineer during the design phase but left because he didn't want to live in Afghanistan any more. He admits to being attracted to the romance and adventure of the country but grew tired of always looking over his shoulder.
“It was after they blew up the supermarket we used to go to in Kabul that it really hit home,” he said. “But it wasn't just the safety, life wasn't that fun. It's like living in the Middle Ages.”
Those conditions mean it is one of the least electrified regions in the world and the Kiwi project is responsible for creating a self-sustaining solar energy infrastructure for 2490 households in Bamiyan city and the largest neighbouring village.
SESI is responsible for solar power expertise, and Netcon looks after the transmission and distribution of the electricity.
“We are the poles and wires,” said Ross Sinclair, Netcon's general manager.
Sinclair stresses they are not there to build and then walk away; the project is designed to create electrical generation that locals can build and maintain after the international forces have left Afghanistan.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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