Medair, December 30, 2010
Afghanistan: Dying from a Drink of Water
"I have seen children dying because of the water. When a child gets diarrhoea here, there is no doctor to help... and some children lose their lives."
Afghan children carry water on a hillside in Kabul on November 5, 2009. A Medair survey of rural villages in the Kohistan district revealed the grim reality that almost 96 percent of the population rely on unsafe or unprotected water sources. (Photo: Reuters/Ahmad Masood)
High in Afghanistan's mountains, Yusif Habib, a father of five, lives in the remote village of Zermod-Payan. For generations, this tiny village's main source of drinking water has been a rushing mountain river.
"Every day, I make seven trips to the river with two 20-litre jerry cans," said Yusif. "And it is a long walk from the river, up the steep hill. It is very difficult in winter."
Yusif carries out this laborious daily chore even though he knows the water isn't safe to drink. "Because of the unclean water, at least one of my children is sick every month," he said. "And I am always sick. Sometimes it is diarrhoea, sometimes vomiting."
A Grim Reality
Afghanistan is dotted with thousands of small, remote villages like Zermod-Payan. A Medair survey of rural villages in the Kohistan district revealed the grim reality that almost 96 percent of the population rely on unsafe or unprotected water sources.
U.N. studies show that poor access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) leads to debilitating physical and economic hardship for communities, in part because people need to spend so much time gathering water instead of earning a living. In addition, people are more often sick because of water-related illnesses and thus unable to work or go to school.
"Life without clean water especially affects children," said Osman, the principal of a school in Kohistan district. "I have seen children dying because of the water. When a child gets diarrhoea here, there is no doctor to help... and some children lose their lives."
Around the world, access to safe drinking water is on the rise, but rural areas still languish far behind urban areas for water access (80 percent of those without safe water live in rural areas).
"For Medair, one of the ways we can help improve global safe water access is to travel to these small, remote villages where no one else is working and improve their access to WASH," said Colin McCubbin, Medair WASH Advisor.
Working in Partnership
"Our village has always wanted clean water, but we have had no money to do so," said Yusif in Zermod-Payan. "No one else has helped us... There is no one else who has come to our village."
In July 2010, Medair met with community leaders in Zermod-Payan and learned more about their urgent need for better WASH. Medair agreed to work in partnership with the community to design and construct a protected water reservoir—supplied with water piped from a difficult-to-access clean-water spring—and to install taps in the village for everyone to use.
"At first, Medair came here to survey and talk with us," said Yusif. "We made an agreement that they would provide us with skilled labour and special materials, and we would be responsible for digging, bringing stones, transporting materials to the village, and working on the project."
Yusif, a wheat farmer, spent several days cutting steel bars, mixing concrete, and breaking stones. "We had to carry the stones a very long way," he said. "And we carried 300 bags of sand on our shoulders up the hill, more than 300 metres. It was very difficult but I'm sure that all our hard work will be worth it when we get clean water."
When Patrick Gali, the Medair project manager, arrived in Zermod-Payan in early October, he was amazed to see how quickly the work had progressed.
"The reservoir is almost complete," said a surprised Patrick. "I'm so impressed with how hard these men are working, and how enthusiastic they are to build this water reservoir for their community."
A Major Ripple Effect
As a result of improved access to WASH, Zermod-Payan's 100 residents will gain enormous health and economic benefits for their future.
Medair is not only working in Zermod-Payan, but also in 100 other rural Afghanistan villages.
The ripple effect of those interventions adds up very quickly: a Medair project that ended in June 2010 improved WASH access for more than 25,000 people who live in small, remote villages. This project was supported with funding from private donors and the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid department.
Medair has now extended this project to cover a wider region, which will benefit an additional 17,000 people in rural communities by June 2011.
"We are so thankful for Medair and the people who helped us," said Yusif. "We really needed clean water. We are all very happy."
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Medair's WASH projects in Afghanistan are supported by private donations and by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid department.
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