Monday, October 6, 2003

Local man's journey aids Afghan people



By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

ROSS TWP. - In the barren, war-scarred landscape of Kabul, Afghanistan, Tim Poynter sat in his khakis and blue polo shirt - and enjoyed a banquet with a half-dozen high-ranking Afghan government officials in white robes.

"I thought, 'The work we're doing must be very important to them; I'm sitting here with the top brass of the country,' " said Poynter, 43, of this Butler County township just outside Hamilton. "They treated me like I was the President of the United States - and I'm a nobody from Hamilton, Ohio."

The Milford firm Poynter co-owns with two partners, Pollution Control Systems Inc., designed the Kabul area's first wastewater treatment system. Poynter traveled there in August to supervise its installation and startup and recently returned home.

The project was part of a $25 million U.S. government contract for building facilities to support the Afghan National Army.

Although the new plant is located on a military base that will not serve the general public, such a project can help foster improved overall living conditions for the Afghan people - and that serves America's best interests, said Kevin Henry, advocacy director for CARE USA, a humanitarian group whose outreach includes Afghanistan.

Person-to-person relationships boost the U.S. image on the global stage and help create a less hospitable climate for terrorist groups, Henry said.

"This is the most important thing we can do to enhance our security in the long run: to make more friends, and basically for America to be perceived for the good things it can share," he said. "The more friends we have in the world, the less likely we are to be attacked - and if we are attacked, we'll have more friends to help us."

Poynter, who went to Kabul to ensure the new plant was installed properly and to train personnel to run it, said he was worried he would find anti-American sentiment.

"We only have one bulletproof vest - and he had it," joked Poynter's business partner, John McDonald of Norwood, who drew the blueprints for the plant.

But instead of hostility, Poynter found acceptance - and even appreciation.

"I got to know the local people, and I found out they really like us," Poynter said.

Poynter's other business partner, Charles Longbottom of Anderson Township, made sure the parts were manufactured to specifications and that they reached their destination - a feat that cost a half-million dollars, twice the value of the equipment, Longbottom said.

First, 12 semi trucks left a Manchester, Tenn., manufacturing plant. Then, the components went to Baltimore, where they were put on a ship to the Persian Gulf. Finally, they went in a convoy of trucks 1,000 miles through mountains to Kabul.

"The equipment was beaten to death by the time it got there," Poynter said. "It needed a lot of repair."

Poynter had to start from Square 1 teaching people how to operate the plant.

Until the plant started running, raw sewage went straight into the river in Kabul, Poynter said. Because Kabul's 2 million residents rely on septic tanks or privies, "disease is a huge part of daily life," he said.

Henry, the CARE USA advocacy director, calls water and sanitation one of the region's most pressing needs.

He estimates that 90 percent of the Afghan people lack access to potable water and decent sewage-disposal systems.

Living conditions in Afghanistan have long been grim - a consequence of 25 years of war and political upheaval, Henry said.

Poynter observed: "People told me that, when the Taliban took over, they would take people to a soccer field in the middle of Kabul and they'd just behead them. ... Now the people live in blown-up houses - but they're very happy and very thankful to be living in those blown-up houses and not be under the Taliban."

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E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com




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