I had a great shower this morning. Showers are the best in my book – I’m definitely not a bath person. And when it comes to drinking water, I prefer still to sparkling. As for toilets, I’ve done enough travel through Africa to tell you I like mine with a fully functional flushing system and with no squatting necessary.
Some may think I’m a tad fussy. In fact I couldn’t really blame one third of the world’s population for calling me a bit of a diva. Because a lack of water to meet basic daily needs affects an unbelievable one in three people on every continent of the globe.*
Today, on World Water Day, I’m asking you to think about every time you use or consume water. How easy is it for you to access water? How much do you use throughout your day? And every time you turn on a tap, buy a drink or flush the loo, think about the difference between your day and that of the men and women of Afghanistan.
Because in this country that’s been rocked by decades of conflict, 82 per cent of people in rural areas and 67 per cent of urban populations do not have access to safe drinking water. Meanwhile, over 90 per cent of the rural population and almost 70 per cent of urban dwellers do not have access to safe sanitation facilities.**
As a result there are high rates of diarrhoea and dysentery, which can be fatal without the proper treatment, especially for the vulnerable such as young children and the elderly.
However, an Afghan Red Crescent Society community-based health programme, which has been running for three years, is beginning to see huge improvements in people’s health.
This programme, which is supported by the British Red Cross, is a first for Afghanistan in that other projects are typically focused on a single issue. But here, staff and volunteers from villages in Balkh province are working across the areas of health, hygiene, water and sanitation.
The involvement and ownership of community members in various activities, such as health and hygiene promotion campaigns is key to the success of the programme. We are now seeing improved access to safe drinking water, sanitation facilities and increasingly positive health and hygiene practices throughout the community.
Around 240 volunteers have been recruited from the villages and one of the most progressive and exciting aspects of the programme is the fact that 50 per cent of these are women. Recruiting female workers in Afghan society can be a major challenge due to conservatism.
In each village a Shora (health committee) is set up and plays a vital role in establishing the needs of the village, supporting health and hygiene promotion campaigns and ensuring the maintenance of the wells and latrines.
So far 43 wells have been built, 192 latrines constructed and 12 mechanics trained in maintaining and repairing the facilities.
Mohammad Achbar, 28, from Deh Hasan village, said: “I have four children – the youngest is three years and the oldest 12 years. Thirteen months ago I heard about the Red Crescent project which digs wells and builds latrines and I’ve found it very good.
“In the past we had to go to the toilet in the open. Now we have a latrine, the door and windows are closed and there are no flies. Our health is improving.
“Also, before we used a shallow well with two buckets on a looped rope. I would transport the water myself in a jerry can. But with the improved well it’s quicker and I have more time. We now have access to clean water and it is always ready immediately.
“We had a discussion in our community about where the latrines and wells would be located and the decisions were made peacefully.”
The programme is making a huge difference and the older generation particularly appreciate the construction of wells, as they previously struggled to travel 2 km or so to collect water in iron buckets. Also, as communities’ access to clean drinking water and sanitary latrines improve, so water-borne diseases, particularly diarrhoea, greatly decrease.
In a country which receives a lot of bad press, this is a positive story about a programme which is giving people back their dignity.
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Image 1 © IFRC
Images 2 & 3 © Greg Rose