Afghanistan

World Water Day: drink and think about life in Afghanistan

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.*

Afghan-girl

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.

Red Cross built well in Afghanistan

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.

Afghanistan-Mr-Achbar

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.

Visit our website for further information on Afghanistan

*World Health Organisation
**UNICEF

Image 1 © IFRC

Images 2 & 3 © Greg Rose

Monday Movement update #22

It’s been an incredibly busy week for Red Cross and Red Crescent staff and volunteers around the world. Here’s your weekly update on what different members of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement* are doing.

A boy is rescued from floodsPhilippines typhoons and floods: The Philippines has been hit by two typhoons in the past week. The Philippines Red Cross opened 130 evacuation centres where around 75,000 survivors are receiving safe shelter, hot meals and blankets. Volunteers carried out search and rescue operations after Typhoon Ketsana and saved more than 400 people from rooftops and high walls during severe flooding. The DEC has launched an appeal.

Vietnam typhoon and floods: Typhoon Ketsana hit the central coast of Vietnam on 29 September. Volunteers evacuated 160,000 people before it hit, but 150,000 people are displaced from their homes. The DEC has launched an appeal.

Samoan islands and Tonga tsunami: Read Rosemarie North’s diary about how people in the Pacific islands are coping, with the help of the Samoa Red Cross, after an earthquake caused devastating tsunamis on 29 September. The British Red Cross has launched an appeal for donations.

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Dare you be an aid worker?

Did you know that last year 122 international aid workers were killed? In fact, the stats show you’re less likely to die as a UN peacekeeper than an aid worker.

I’ve just read an article on the BBC website about the UN holding its first ever World Humanitarian Day to honour international aid workers.

The BBC has also started a discussion about the importance of aid workers, whether they need better protection in conflict zones and how best to deliver aid in these situations. If you want to join the discussion then visit their Have Your Say page. More

Monday Movement update #16

Man carrying bags and boxes of relief suppliesHere’s your weekly update on what different members of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement* are doing.

Mongolia floods diary: A Red Cross worker in Mongolia is keeping a diary after severe flooding killed at least 24 people.

Pakistan: The Pakistan Red Crescent and the Federation are distributing relief to families who fled fighting in North-West Frontier Province, like 23-year-old Akhtar Ali (pictured), who said: “We did not even find the time to take an extra clothes with us and families have been sharing essential items with us. Now we have things of our own thanks to the Pakistan Red Crescent who have helped us out in these difficult times.”

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What will your move be?

Just been flicking through today’s papers, unsurprisingly a pretty depressing experience. Here are some of the headlines:

  • Afghans riot over air-strike atrocity
  • Labour’s record on poverty in tatters
  • Witch hunts, murder and evil in Papua New Guinea
  • Villagers flee as military tackles Taliban in Swat
  • A year on, China quake survivors face uncertain future

But do you want to hear the good news? More

Monday Movement update #7

Here’s your weekly update on what different members of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement* are doing.

A woman and baby in Mexico wear face masks

Swine flu: More than 100 people are thought to have died from swine flu in Mexico and cases have been reported in the USA and Canada. The British Red Cross has announced it’s ready to respond if there’s a large scale outbreak in the UK.

Sri Lanka conflict: As fighting continues to devastate civilians and the medical services in Sri Lanka, the ICRC has again reminded both parties to the conflict of their obligation to comply with international humanitarian law in all circumstances. More

Monday Movement update #4

Here’s your weekly update on what different members of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement* are doing.

Philippines abduction: The group that abducted three ICRC employees on 15 January have threatened to kill one of them today if their demands are not met. ICRC president Jacob Kellenberger is appealing to the group to release Mary Jean Lacaba, Eugenio Vagni and Andreas Notter unharmed immediately.

Crocs, snakes and hippos: As the Zambezi River floods north-east Namibia, villagers are having to fight more than the water to survive.

Nazir in a wheelchairPakistan/Afghanistan photo gallery: The ICRC has published a photo gallery of their work on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. See pictures and read stories of people like nine-year-old Nazir (pictured), who’s being treated at a surgical hospital.

Indonesia dam: Two days of rain burst a 100-year-old dam in Jakarta, killing at least 50 people. The Indonesia Red Cross has trained emergency response volunteers carrying out search and rescue, and handing out emergency relief items. More

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