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In Search of Clean Drinking Water in Afghanistan

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Download In Afghanistan, people are not just killed by the war – dirty water is even more lethal.

Last year the United Nations Children’s Fund reported only half of the population had access to safe drinking water.

And according to the latest government data, almost ten per cent of the country’s children die before their 5th birthday simply because of diarrhea.  

In the capital Kabul, many people still live in unplanned settlements with poor sanitation and no safe drinking water.

The government has been trying to tackle this issue, but shows no real signs of making progress.

Ghayor Waziri has this report.

It’s almost midday now in Kabul’s Karte Sakhi district.

9-year old Saadia has been queuing for water for more than three hours in the open winter air.

She says there’s no one else in her house to get water.

She comes with her brother and sisters carrying four buckets to collect water for one night.

She says there’s no-one else in her house to get water. She’s come with her brother and sisters, carrying four buckets to collect water for one night.’

Hundreds of people carrying buckets are also queueing with Saadia to wait to use the public water taps.

This district has more than 4,000 residents with just four water taps, and only two are working.

The harsh winter makes things even worse, says resident Abdul Qayoom.

“Our water problem is that there’s only one tap here. We used to have two taps, but now just one because it was destroyed by the freezing cold. We can’t find any solution to this. And the tap is very crowded. Everyone wants to get water from this tap. This is the problem that our district is facing. I came here at 8.30 am but I still haven’t reached the middle of the line.”

Last year Afghanistan appealed for more than 140 million US dollars to feed 2.6 million people during the winter, as it faced its worst drought in a decade.

Because of the drought, people drilled deeper wells, draining groundwater resources.

And the water still left underground is polluted, says Muhammad Naiem Tokhi from the Ministry of Mines.

“Kabul’s water has high levels of biological pollution, with the presence of microbes. People bury garbage in the ground, explosive devices are everywhere, and there are too many people in Kabul. We lack a water supply system, there is sewage and open drains. Those are the factors causing water pollution here.”

Underground water supply in Kabul is highly contaminated with e-coli and other bacteria – a strong indication of recent sewage or animal waste contamination.

According to the government, out of every 1000 children, 97 of them die before their 5th birthday because of diarrhea.

Dr Ghulam Sakhi Kargar Noor Oghli is the spokesman for the Ministry of Public Health.

“Unfortunately one of the main reasons for child deaths in Afghanistan is inaccessibility of drinking water. This lack of drinking water especially for children causes continual and serious diarrhea which can cause serious dehydration and death.”   

Other activities add to this pollution.

Doctor Muhammad Kazim Hamoyoon is an advisor at the government’s National Environmental Protection Agency.

“Chemical fertilizers are one of the water pollutants. Chemical fertilizers produce nitrate and when mixed with underground water this can cause stomach cancer and other diseases. Another cause is car washes. When cars are washed, it creates one liter of lubricants mixed with water; this can pollute one million liters of underground water.”

To try and solve Kabul’s water crisis, the government has two dam projects designed and ready to go.

The Shahtoot and Golbahar dam aim to channel clean water from non-polluted areas to Kabul.

Sultan Mahmod Mahmodi at the Ministry of Water and Energy is responsible for both projects.

“Shatoot is a short-term project designed to supply drinking water to the western and some central parts of Kabul. And the Golbahar project is long-term project to supply drinking water to other central parts of the city. Now we’re hoping for a budget from the Ministry of Finance and foreign donors. With the budget, we can start working on the Shahtoot project first.”

While waiting for the money, the government is tackling people’s awareness of water sanitation with public announcements in the mosques and TV commercials.

This TV spot encourages people to be careful of what they drink.

Gholam Sakhi Kargar Noor Oghli is the spokesman for Afghanistan health ministry.

“It is so important that for people to use clean drinking water, we started some programs through mosques and media to increase public information about this. We inform them not to drink polluted water. We advise them to use chlorine and boil less polluted water to avoid diarrhea and death.”

But those steps are expensive, says Asad, a resident from Karte Sakhi district.

“The Health Ministry has announced that we should use chlorine and boil water. It is efficient but boiling water will cost us money because you have to buy more wood to boil water. We’re poor, where can we find money for that?”
Last Updated ( Monday, 19 March 2012 10:49 )  

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