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Building Afghanistan into Ruin

USAID fails to study the past in order to solve modern problems
Matthew J. Nasuti (Former U.S. Air Force Captain)
Sunday 1 January 2012

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The United States did not always build junk. One of its greatest building successes began in 1941 at Quonset Point, Road Island, where the U.S. Navy manufactured its first Quonson Hut.

The brilliant design and utter simplicity of the Quonson Hut (which was produced in many different sizes) cannot be underestimated. It became an icon of the Second World War. Its rugged galvanized steel shell was sturdy and was made even more so by the corrugated design. The genius of combining the walls and roof helped to eliminate water leaks, eliminated snow buildups and eliminated the need for interior buttresses, which permitted a wide range of open floor plans.

Air gaps between the two layers of steel permitted the insertion of insulation for cold climates.

Quonset Hut T-Rib Model Wall Detail

The Quonson Hut design allowed for numerous alterations depending on site conditions. For example, knee-high or taller side walls could be poured using cement bonded mineralized wood fibers such as those contained in Durisol concrete. This material has an insulation “R” value of 1.75 per inch, and a pH greater than 10 so it inhibits mold. In addition, larger air gaps could be added to the walls permitting the insertion of additional rigid foam insulation and vapor barriers for wet or cold climates.

Another advantage of the Quonson Hut is that after laying the foundation or concrete slab, the Quonson Hut could be constructed in a matter of hours. Eventually an estimated 160,000 Quonson Huts were built as part of the war effort. Quonson Huts still exist across the United States. As long as their zinc-coated steel shells are kept painted, the buildings have an extensive service life.

In 2001 USAID could have embraced this reliable icon of America but it opted instead in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere to pay for more modern buildings, including modular structures. This effort produced a mix of fair to poor buildings and schools, all at a price wildly inflated compared to the frugal yet functional Quonson Hut, and all requiring periodic repairs and maintenance, which Afghanistan cannot afford.

In conclusion, a review of ten years of USAID construction efforts in Afghanistan reveals nothing complimentary. USAID has literally built Afghanistan into ruin. Five years from now there will be little to show from the billions in taxpayer dollars invested. Despite its stunning failures, USAID mission directors and country officials, who rotate in for short tours and then depart, continue to receive lavish praise and presumably promotions from their agency. USAID’s Administrator, Rajiv Shah is primarily known for giving speeches in which he praises President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and for posing for more self-promotional publicity photos than all previous USAID Administrators combined.


Even though USAID has no clothes (to coin an American phrase), few in the Administration have been willing to acknowledge the obvious because loyalty is prized above competence. The thinking is that it is better to waste billions and lose the war than to hold inept, yet loyal, officials accountable. To some in the Obama Administration failure is an option and apparently a more attractive option to acting responsibly; which is incomprehensible.


Image sources:
1. The Rajiv Shah photo: Seattle times
2. The hut covered with USA bags: technoccult.net

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