Tag Archives: Sewage

Kabul air — Quality you can taste

Nothing says “ambiance” on Camp Eggers like walking by a “suck-truck” pumping sewage holding tanks on your way to the DFAC.  It’s something like Pavlov’s Dogs–but no one is really sure whether the hunger pangs or the stench comes first.

"Okay air" versus "not-so Okay air"

So poor is the air quality in Afghanistan that the urban legend is that you get an automatic 10% disability rating for a year in theater (you don’t).  NTM-A recently declared that, “If you can see, taste, or smell the air, or you cannot see the mountains during daylight hours, then you should exercise indoors.”

Another revelation from NTM-A is that, “During exercise, breathing becomes faster and deeper through the mouth, which allows more particle matter to reach deep into the lungs.”

Call off the war, I have a 5k to run.

The Ballad of Bin Laden

Mixing religion, politics, and engineers in one motion, below is some Afghanistan-related engineer humor for which I make no excuse if you find it less than funny:

Which way do you face, with your mug in a book?
Where do you look, when you sit in a nook?
Is it easier or harder to adjust the seat,
or turn the foundation, when you pour concrete?
Or do you not care and just say, “oh, hecka,”
when you consider direction and ponder of Mecca?


When muslims do their business, they cannot face or have their back to Mecca.  So the facilities built in Afghanistan must have the toilets oriented such that they can be used without violating this tenent.  The Afghans will absolutely not use the facility if this is not correct.

NTM-A or IJC did install an LSS (Life Support System–toilets and showers prefabricated in a connex) near Kabul International Airport with the toilets oriented improperly (which could have been fairly easily fixed by just rotating the connex’s 90 degrees) and remain untouched to date.

The below drawing submission reflects an engineered evaluation of the direction to Mecca from the jobsite and the recommended solution.

The challenging decisions engineers must make. . .

I wonder if the up-armored Humvee ‘porta-potties’ were oriented properly. . .

Afghan Affluenza

In the U.S., we have telephones and even television.  In Japan, they have heated seats.  In Afghanistan, they have $250,000 up-armored Humvees. 

You may think I talking about the latest in vehicle luxury.  Unfortunately, I am not.  This is about bathrooms.

As hot as it get’s in the summer, it gets equally cold during the winter.  Our standard for construction is to place the bathrooms in a separate facility so if they over flow or or otherwise have problems, they don’t ruin the sleeping or working facilities with them.  These facilities, known as LSS (Life Support System), are not always heated effectively.  The quarter-million-dollar Humvees we provide the ANA do have effective heaters.

Earlier this year, an inventory was conducted of  all vehicles.  In one location, only 18 of the 36 up-armored Humvees could be found.  The inspectors asked where the remaining 18 were and they were shown.  Upon opening the doors, they were greeting with the putrid smell of feces and urine (not uncommon in Afghanistan).  Each vehicle was filled with human waste.  During the winter, the Afghans had been warming-up the Humvees and then using them to relieve bodily functions in the warmer, more comfortable environment.

The good news is that stress level went down in ANA soldiers since they didn’t have to worry about incoming fire when sitting “in” the toilet.

Port-o-Potty Blues

If there is one defining feature of construction sites, it is the portable toilet, more affectionally known as the port-o-potty.  Believe it or not, on active project sites, these icons of the construction industry can be pretty clean and well kept.  That is, the construction industry outside of Afghinistan.

It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it

On a not-so-nearby project site, the port-o-lets were ready for their routine cleaning.  So what do you do?  Grab your favorite shovel and start scooping.  The inspector discovered the ‘mess’ and wrote-up the following:

Three laborers were observed going from portable toilet to portable toilet on the project removing with a shovel, sewage waste and water bottles / debris from the holding tanks. The deficient collection, handling and disposal of jobsite sewage waste and the deficient PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] utilized in the collection, movement and disposal of the sewage waste was observed.”

Why would a guy use a shovel?  Because there are rocks in the “holding tank.” 

Why are there rocks in the holding tank?  Because toilet paper doesn’t work as well.

Rocks are the “Afghan Right” solution.  With the country widely deforested, paper is a precious commodity.  On the other hand, rocks are quite abundant.  It is not an infrequent thing to walk into a restroom and find rocks strewn about the floor.  They are on the floor because that makes them easier to reuse than having to fish them out of the toilet.  Plus,rocks don’t flush very well (see Toilet Rocks).

Shiny Red Pump Truck

The United States is doing more than just building facilities for the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.  We are buying weapons, tools, vehicles, uniforms, food, water. . . If it is required to run an army, we are outfitting the Afghans with it.  Even fire trucks.

At one installation, the U.S. delivered a nice, shiny new fire truck for the base fire department.  Apparently, the limited number of fires freed up the truck for more urgent requirements:  Pumping and hauling sewage from septic tanks.  Might as well let your house burn down.

Toilet Rocks

Paper is a luxury in Afghanistan in part because there are so few trees. So instead of paper in the bathrooms, Afghans use rocks. Out in the villages and farms, the rocks just go right down the hole after business is completed. With a tip of the hat to environmentalism, they sometimes recycle the rocks by just leaving them on the floor near the toilet.

The Americans (me and you, the taxpayer) built a facility in northern Afghanistan with indoor plumbing, eastern-style toilets, and all the fixtures. Within the past year, we discovered the building had been destroyed by the foundation settling and splitting the building in half. A little research revealed that the Afghans had been putting their rocks down the toilets. When the toilets backed-up, they used rebar (reinforcing steel rods) as plungers to clear the rocks out. This broke the pipes which allowed the effluent to erode the subgrade foundation and sink the building!


I attended my first ‘big shots’ meeting recently.  I say ‘big shots’ because the Commanding General of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan was in attendance (a 3-star general), two 2-stars, seven 1-stars, plus over 20 Colonels and another 20 Lieutenant Colonels.  The generator that supplied the meeting room was down for repair.  The back-up power source could not support the air conditioner so the windows were open.  It was a little warm but the weather was beautiful. 

After about 30 minutes, a sewer truck outside the meeting room began pumping sewage to haul off Camp Eggers.  The sewage pumping process is not exactly a hermetically sealed evolution.  So, what do senior officers do?  Press on while the less senior ones shut the windows.  We finished the meeting in a smelly, 90+ degree room, 1-1/2 hours later.  Just another day in a war zone.