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My third mission to Afghanistan as a Reserve Project Officer

Capt. (R) Micovilovich has made the following report after her third mission in Afghanistan as Project Officer. Her civilian professional skills as an architect were used in the good spirit of Civil-Military Co-operation (CIMIC).

Who I am

I live in Trieste (Italy). In my civilian life, I work as an architect for the City Council Public Works. 
As far as my military experience is concerned, I attended the 4th Selected Reserve Force Course at the School of Applied Military Studies and Institute of Military Studies of Turin, 7 years ago, and, the following year, the CIMIC Tactical Course at the Multinational Cimic Group of Motta di Livenza (North East Italy).
My deployment abroad as Functional Specialist includes one mission in Iraq, in 2005, and three in Afghanistan, in 2007, 2008, and 2010. During my last employment period, in 2010, I worked as CIMIC Project Officer in the Italian PRT of Herat. 
The PRT is a civil-military organization aimed at helping the local government and promoting reconstruction and development.  

My task

My specific task is project-related. A project starts with a preliminary drafting, including the social and economic analysis of local environment, the feasibility study, the building up of relationships with the actors involved in the project, the collection of relevant information. Once the working plan is finalized and assigned, the construction phase of the project starts. The activities of the project officer also include the oversight of the building site, throughout inspection tours jointly conducted with local authorities, till completion of works. All these activities require the establishment and maintenance of a number of contacts and relationships, in order to solve doubts, prevent problems, and keep everybody involved. This is why local engineers or architects enrolled by the PRT are a particularly effective part of the project team. A project can be designed to construct a bridge, a school, a basic health centre, etc. In 2009, 64 projects were realized. 
All these projects are included in the annual EXECUTIVE PLAN (EP) that I usually help to draft. The EP is the detailed Plan agreed with local authorities, aimed at defining projects for the development and stability of the Region for the year to come. 
The planning process is very complex, and requires several assessments on the field, as well as meetings with the Herat Department Chief concerned, to check the sustainability and establish the priority of the projects to be realized. Many related activities have to be performed at the same time, in order to realize a full scale ‘comprehensive approach’. Of particular importance is the policy of establishing relationships involving the local population, stakeholders, religious representatives, and local civilian organizations, IOs and NGOs, UN Agencies, other donors in order to collect needs and synchronize interventions. Furthermore, controls need to be done to verify that local firms have the capability to carry out the work, and that material is available in the local market, in order to promote economical development. 

The main sectors of intervention include health, agriculture, education, social affairs, justice, security, and infrastructures.

In my experience, the better the EP is devised, the easier and more efficient the execution of the project will be.

Afghanistan is changing

I have been three times in Afghanistan, but it would be wrong to think that returning to the same overseas destination means to live the same experience again. The situation is constantly changing, and you have to adapt to the new environment. Actually, I have seen a deep change through these three missions.

The PRT has transitioned from emergency interventions aimed at ensuring survival to development activities aimed at promoting social and economic development, in order to increase self-confidence among local population, as well as confidence in their institutions and ISAF. 

One practical example is represented by women-related issues. The Italian PRT has always been committed to help the female cause.

In the past, projects were aimed at improving survival. In 2010, due to the strong request from the Afghan Women Organization, projects began to be geared to the improvement and promotion of women’s leadership and entrepreneurship. Herat City presents a quite interesting situation for women. Actually, 35% of the University’s students are female, and some important positions in the town are held by women.

The most important project in this sector is undoubtedly the Women's Business Centre, built in Herat downtown. It is a considerable key-project combining the construction of the building with a comprehensive program targeted at women - including a micro-credit initiative, training and connection/communication activities - which will foster the development of female entrepreneurship, and promote a consistent progress of Afghan women towards autonomy. This also serves as an example for other similar realities, and as catalyst for less advanced areas.
The Women’s Business Centre is a project built by the Italian PRT for an amount of 282,000 Euros. The project - proposed by the Women’s Affairs Department in Herat, in the framework of the 2010 Executive Plan and completed one year ago - is a ‘commercial area dedicated to women entrepreneurs’, in which the marketplace is seen as the core of a process allowing women to invent, develop and implement their own enterprise, and to sell goods and services.

Implementing this project has been a real challenge: first, obtaining a suitable site to building (close to downtown, accessible by public transport, a safe place for women, etc), then reaching an agreement between the authorities involved in the project, drafting the preliminary plan with the women organizations, local engineers, CIMIC project team and Herat Urban Development Department, and finally organizing several meeting with all the local organizations involved in order to guarantee the management of the Women’s Business Centre
This project gave me the opportunity to work with 3 special women: Suraya Pakzad, Executive Director of ‘Voice of Women Organisation’, Maria Bashir, Chief Prosecutor, and Manizha Sadiq, Head of the Women’s Affairs Department. 
These women are very cultured and extremely brave; they all have strong energy and enthusiasm. They are doing important projects for women in their country. Working with them was a great experience.

The projects

Projects are related to many areas of intervention, and require qualified expertise mostly coming from the selected force. Just to give a flavour of the work done during my last employment in Afghanistan, I will subdivide the main projects in several areas:
AGRICULTURE: 6 Karizes (6 km  of water pipe system), canal refurbishing, construction of 120 irrigation wells, and extension of farming land. Realisation of a refrigerated facility providing proper storage for commodities. 24,000 fruit trees planted, with a view to improving soil and weather conditions (windbreaking, water concentration). Tons of wheat, saffron, large quantities of silkworms, and 800 commodities distributed in different areas in accordance with local morphologic and climate conditions, in order to improve the livelihood of the local population.
HEALTH: Construction of 4 clinics (3 BHCs and 1 CHC), to provide basic health services in remote areas. Construction of the Paediatric Hospital Guest House, providing accommodation for the families of children coming from the entire western area of Afghanistan, to reduce the mortality of mothers and new born children. Realization of a 10 km long distance power line connecting the Regional Hospital with the power distribution network, to ensure the smooth and proper functioning of the Herat Regional Hospital, which is able to offer a  wide range of high-quality specialist services. These preliminary steps are seen as essential within a strategy aimed at the general improvement of healthcare in Herat. 
GOVERNANCE: Infrastructural projects included in this sector were mainly aimed at improving the efficiency of local authorities through the refurbishment of 4 administration facilities in Herat, the construction of the Provincial Council, and of the conference hall, the refurbishment and building of 4 administrative districts, and the supplying of huge quantities of materiel and furniture required for the performance of daily activities. 
INFRASTRUCTURE: Construction of a new one-million euro bridge in a very dangerous area, in order to  connect people that were previously isolated. Construction of four asphalt roads aimed at creating separate entrances in the airport for the military and civilians, and to improve living conditions in a densely populated area.  
EDUCATION: The Ministry of Education is responsible for education, in Herat Province. Since 2005, a positive and constructive cooperation between the Afghan Ministry and the Italian PRT has launched projects aimed at providing educational facilities on the entire territory of Herat Province. Until today, the PRT has completed approximately 50 schools, covering each of the 16 provincial districts, and answering the needs of the Ministry in terms of number of student population served and building typology. 
Siawashan - a 20,000 inhabitants village close to Herat - was the base of an insurgent group that destabilized the entire central area of Herat Province. After a clearing operation, the leader was killed and the local governor asked a stabilization intervention of PRT. In a very short time, in close cooperation with ITACOOP, USAID, US, ARMY, UN and local government, we have realized many projects including: gravel roads, 10 new classroom schools, refurbishment of existing school facilities, culvert restoration, construction of small bridges and surrounding walls. These projects have been realised from scratch in five months time, and all this brought a great relief to the local population, after a long period of domination by the insurgents. 

Suggestions to ensure quality of results

In my experience, I should like to suggest some guidelines developed during the last mission, to ensure quality of results:
  • joint team for construction site monitoring (with local stakeholders);
  • development of local management capabilities;
  • imposing schedules compelling local contracting companies to stick strictly to the timetable;
  • daily supervising and monitoring the construction site, or, alternatively, providing a detailed photo reporting scheme, when security reasons make it impossible to access the site;
  • local engineers employed in the construction site;
  • meeting with stakeholders involved to solve any problem arising during the execution of the works.
In my opinion, these guidelines can be useful to obtain better results, and promote the people’s confidence in   our mission and local authorities. 

Some personal considerations

Going back several times to the same area of operations has given me the opportunity to see that buildings and facilities which had been planned and whose construction had started during my previous missions were now completed and operational. For example, in one previous mission I had started the works for the construction of the paediatric hospital. In my last mission, I could see the unit open and operating, with the reception room full of patients.
It is a great satisfaction to verify with your own eyes that your job has been realized, and that the facility is usefully and properly utilised.

I want to underline once again that one of the greatest experiences in my life has been to contribute to the Italian Army with my own personal professional experience.

The Italian Army is constantly involved in international operations in all the main crisis zones. 

It is always a great privilege to be called for an employment abroad.

It is an unbelievable experience, totally different from the civilian life, an occasion for extraordinary personal and cultural enrichment. 

CAPT Micovilovich is currently working as an architect for the City Council Public Works, in Trieste (North-East Italy), and serving as Project Officer in the Italian Army Reserve Forces.

© 2012 Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers