U.S. has wrong coordinates for several Afghanistan medical facilities, inspector says

The inspector said six of 32 Kabul area facilities are located more than six miles away from where U.S. officials say they are.
By Doug G. Ware  |  Jan. 11, 2016 at 9:10 PM
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ARLINGTON, Va., Jan. 11 (UPI) -- The special inspector general responsible for the oversight of rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan has determined that geographic coordinates given by U.S. officials for a handful of medical facilities there are inaccurate -- in some cases by miles.

The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said six of the 32 Kabul area facilities funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Afghanistan are more than six miles away from where the agency says they are.

One facility's coordinates are between three and six miles off the official specifications, and three are between a half mile and three miles off. The remaining 22 were found to be within a half mile of where USAID says they are.

Further, inspectors said they weren't able to evaluate 10 facilities because they were missing location-specific technical data.

"SIGAR found substantial inaccuracies in the geospatial coordinates USAID provided for many of these 32 health facilities and observed that not all had access to electricity and running water," SIGAR John F. Sopko wrote in a Jan. 5 letter to USAID administrators, noting that the inspections were the second in a series across the war-torn country.

The reported inaccuracies came at a time when special investigators are still trying to determine why an errant U.S. airstrike leveled an Afghan clinic operated by Médecins Sans Frontières, also known as Doctors Without Borders, in October.

The coordinates included in an Alert Letter from October, which was a direct result of the faulty airstrike, which killed between 20 and 30 people -- including medical personnel and patients.

Sources said in November that the strike was the result of technical and human error, and led military officials to conclude that the clinic was a Taliban compound. The inspections were conducted between July and November. Sopko said inspectors were aided by a knowledge of the area and assistance from locals in the Kabul area.

A different MSF facility in Yemen was struck Sunday.

Six hundred Afghan medical facilities were funded by the $260 million Partnership Contracts for Health (PCH) program between 2008 and 2015.

Sopko noted in the letter that his office has expressed concerns about the Afghan facilities since 2014, owing partly to the administrators involved with the System Enhancement for Health Action in Transition (SEHAT) program, which provides services in third-world countries.

"We believe that accurate location specific information, including geospatial coordinates, is critical to effective oversight," Sopko added.

In June, Sopko told USAID administrators that he was concerned about the geographic accuracy of coordinates for 510 of of more than 600 locations. He also noted a response from USAID that said stated "the lack of precise geospatial data in most cases does not interfere with our ability to effectively monitor."

Sopko's letter also acknowledged that all 32 Kabul area facilities appeared to be operating -- although inspectors noticed "some basic structural concerns at most of the facilities, such as cracked walls, leaking roofs, broken doors, and shattered windows."

SIGAR added, though, that some of the facilities lacked reliable water and electricity, and some disposed of medical waste in open-air areas accessible to the public.

"This method of unsecured disposal does not adhere to best practices and raises the risk that patients seeking treatment—or children we observed playing outside at several facilities—could be accidentally exposed to contaminated waste," the letter said.

Sopko's office has publicized several photos of the facilities that were inspected.

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