KABUL (Reuters) - Billions of dollars spent building up Afghanistan's road infrastructure over more than a decade risk going to waste because of poor maintenance, a U.S. Congressional oversight body said on Saturday.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said U.S. agencies had spent $2.8 billion since 2002 building roads in Afghanistan but wear and tear as well as the Taliban insurgency had damaged the system badly.
"USAID and (the Department of Defense) spent billions of dollars on road construction in Afghanistan, but have had only limited success in ensuring the long-term sustainability of those roads," the report said.
Improving transport links will be vital if Afghanistan is to develop an economy strong enough to stand on its own once international donors, who earlier this year pledged some $15 billion in aid to 2020, leave.
But the dire state of the highways, exposed to a harsh climate and regularly blocked and mined by insurgents, is regularly highlighted by horrific road accidents which occur periodically.
SIGAR's report said a recent survey it conducted had shown that 54 percent of the country's road infrastructure needed rehabilitation beyond simple repairs, with maintenance efforts hindered by poor security, lack of capacity and corruption.
It said the U.S. military in Afghanistan had "acknowledged that the Afghan government was unable to sustain the roads that had been transferred to it."
The report quoted an official from the Afghan Ministry of Public works as saying the vital stretch of highway between the capital Kabul and Kandahar in the south was "beyond repair and needs to be rebuilt" due to roadside bombs and general wear.
The official was quoted as saying that 20 percent of Afghanistan's roads were destroyed and 80 percent continued to deteriorate. Other officials said proper maintenance of the system would require $100 million a year.
(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Richard Balmforth)