Safe water in Afghanistan: A child’s story

10 May 2009

Safe water in Afghanistan: A child’s story

KABUL - Fakhria is a 12 year-old schoolgirl from the suburbs of Kabul. Like many Afghan children, for many years she had to bring water from her home to school, or get unsafe water from one of the public pumps, shared by the 10,600 students of the Bibi Sara High School.

“Water has a basic role in our life. If we don’t have water, we cannot live,” she said. Those simple child’s words reflect the fundamental need of thousands of children across Afghanistan.

According to the latest assessment from UNICEF, Afghanistan still has one of the worst child development indicators in the world, including lack of access to clean water and safe sanitation. Only 60 per cent of schoolchildren in the country have access to safe water. Even if it is provided, the lack of pumps and other facilities for proper hand-washing leads to diarrhoeal diseases and other water-borne diseases due to contamination. The result is sick children unable to study or go to school.

Facing this major problem for development, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) hired the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to implement the Kabul Schools Programme. The project includes the construction of two new high schools in Kabul and the rehabilitation of existing water and sanitation facilities in seven schools in the capital city.

Since then, UNOPS has improved the existing water supplies of these seven schools, and built new facilities such as electric pumps, deep wells able to exploit drinking water safe from shallow industrial pollution or infiltration of bacterium, and storage tanks where the water is treated against any form of contamination.

Once the wells were constructed, laboratory tests were conducted to ensure the water quality met World Health Organization standards, certifying that the water is safe for drinking and other daily uses.

This part of the programme was completed in January 2009. The water dispatched to the seven schools in Kabul involved in the programme meets WHO standards and the new facilities are now providing safe water to more than 60,000 students across the city.

“Before the implementation of the UNOPS-USAID programme, we had to deplore a huge absenteeism due to health problems related to unsafe water. But since last January, this problem has been solved. This is no longer the main reason why students miss school,” said the head of Bibi Sara High School.

For Fakhria and many thousands of school children in Kabul and across Afghanistan safe water at school is a welcome addition.

“I would like to do more, especially on the training of the local engineers, in order for the Afghan people to be in charge of the construction of further water facilities,” said Christopher Serjak, the UNOPS Programme Manager.

“We also should explain to children what safe and clear water is, how they can avoid health problems by knowing the quality of the water they drink. I would like all the children of Afghanistan to have access to safe water, and to know how to preserve it,” said Fakhria.

By Alexandre Brecher-Dolivet, UNAMA

Website: UNOPS, Afghanistan

Website: USAID, Afghanistan