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The Killid Group

Water: Fountain of Life or Death?

Sunday, 11 April 2010 10:39

Water: Fountain of Life or Death?

According to Afghan Health Ministry official, approximately 70 percent of Afghans do not have proper access to sources of drink water.

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, millions of dollars have been spent to supply access to healthy drinking water across Afghanistan and particularly in the capital of Kabul.  But most of the capital's residents complain about the lack of it and are struggling to secure sources of potable water.

Marina, an elderly Afghan widow with six grandchildren, who lives in the Afshar area of Kabul says: "Every night, we have to line up to get healthy drinking water up to midnight," and explains that lines will only worsen as the blistering summer descends over the city.  "When there is not any water into this tank," Marina adds, "we will have to pay 1.5 Afs for each liter of water and it is a big problem for us."

"We put big pot under spout to wash the clothes and even the dishes," she says, explaining how, to conserve what little water they have, they use rainwater to wash clothes and dishes.

According to Emra Khan, a resident of Bagh-e-Daud, "we had the best drink water in this area in the past, but after the locals unearthed holes to get rid of their garbage and dirt in this area, it seeped into the water of this well and water was fully contaminated."

Hakimullah, living in the Kot-e-Sangi area, harshly complains about lack of clean water in the area and believes that "we commonly use wells in our daily activities and even to drink. But they are not pure and there is not any sewage system in this area. So we have to pull out water and then boil it before we use it."

Shazia, a resident of Khair Khana and a mother of seven, says "at the time of hot weather, my children get the different diseases such as stomachaches and others. Some of them get diarrhea and when we go to the doctor they believe unhealthy

drinking water is the main reason of their diseases."  She says she knows her current water supply is completely contaminated but they have no choice but to use it for washing the dishes and cooking.

Humanitarian casualties

On International Water Day, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon commented that "today, more people die from contaminated and polluted water than war."

"These deaths are obviously abusing our common humanity and affect the progress of developing countries." According to the Secretary General it is mostly the poor who suffer from polluted and contaminated water.

Amanullah Husseini, the Head of Environmental Protection in the Ministry of Public Health, has concerns about the consequences of using unclean water. "There will be different diseases such as diarrhea and other infectious diseases which come up from lack of enough access to the healthy drinking water." Annually, approximately 85,000 people die from diarrhea or similar diseases. Additionally, 20 to 50 percent of Afghan children get diarrhea each year.

"In beginning of hot weather, over 20 percent of our patients are those who become ill by using unhealthy drinking water, says Dr. Safiullah Safa, a doctor at Ibn-e-Sina Heart Hospital.

According to the doctor, "a number of diseases such as diarrhea and most of the other deadly diseases for children are caused by using unhealthy drink water."

Polluted Sources

According to Afghan experts, non-standard garbage dumps are considered the main source of the increasing pollution in water wells.

Article 38th of the Afghan Environment Law states that "the owner of land, tenant or someone who is working over piece of land, which has significantly pollute and contaminate the water source are obliged to prevent and stop and immediately remove the pollution source."

"A number of buildings and skyscrapers which are being built in Kabul, especially in the sandy areas, mostly use septic tanks which can leak and contaminate underground water wells, bringing disease to Kabul's drinking water," says Dr. Amanuallh Husseini.

Dr. Safiuddin Safa also believes that non-standard sewers are a main source of contaminated and polluted water, “as there is not any oversight from Kabul Municipality, sewage canals are not being built correctly."  In many cases sewage systems are only built with stoned walls. According to the civil engineering system, there must be several layers of blacktop behind these walls in order to prevent waste water penetrating through the wall.

He also believes that the hurried construction of sewer systems as the city of Kabul quickly expands are being done poorly and will cause added sickness. The lack of a proper sewer system in Kabul, the poor maintenance of the pipes that are there and the increasing population in capital play a great role in the pollution of underground water sources.

Presently, 1,400 cubic meters of garbage are produced in Kabul per day, while the municipality of Kabul is only capable to gathering a total of 400 cubic meters.

Access to Water

According to Engineer Sultan Mahmood Mahmoodi, General Director of the Water Adjustment Department in the Ministry of Energy and Water, approximately 30 percent of urban Afghans and 20 percent of those in rural areas have proper access to drinking water. Officials on the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission are deeply concerned about the country's poor access to healthy water.

Nader Naderi, the head of the commission says "one of the main challenges in Afghans' social rights field is lack of proper access to healthy drinking water." Close to 70 percent of those interviewed say they only have very poor access to it and approximately 33.7 percent of Afghans are currently using insecure water sources across the country.

Esmaeel Khan, acting Afghan Minister of Energy and Water, states that "according to reports and statistics, over 70 billion cube meters of water annually flows into Afghanistan's many lakes but less than half of this is being used by Afghans."

The minister pledged that by 2010 more than half of Afghans will have plentiful access to clean drinking water across the country.

Engineer Mahmoodi says that the Ministry of Energy and Water is operating a national development program to exploit water resources. Additionally, the ministry has just assessed the construction of the Shah-Tout dam over Maidan's lake and it will bring clean drinking water to more than 3 million Kabul residents.  An analysis of the Gulbahar dam suggests that it will eventually be able to produce 186 million cube meters of drinking water from Panjshir Lake.

He also says "the project of drinking water in Andkhoy District in Faryab Province will be completed as soon as possible and it will definitely supply drinking water to over 176,000 residents of this area as well."

Rural  Water

According to UNICEF, over 81 percent of Afghans live in rural areas, where there is poor access to clean and sanitary drinking water. One hundred and sixty one newborns in every 1,000 die from diarrhea and other waterborne diseases, UNICEF reported.

Dr. Saderuddin Sahar, Deputy to the Ministry of Public Health, says "the rate of child deaths in rural areas from unhealthy drinking water has been recently decreased dramatically through our efforts and operating different plans and strategies." In the past years, 257 newborns from 1,000 died from a lack of access to clean drinking water.

According to a number of human rights watchers, approximately 23.9 percent of interviewees believe there are not enough water wells. Additionally, there are concerns over water cuts, and dried or contaminated wells.

According to Naderi, around 25.7 percent of interviewees say that their nearest source of water is at least 15 minutes away. Additionally 8.0 percent of them have to travel over an hour to have access to water and approximately 2.3 percent of them have to pay for their drinking water.

Wais Barmack, Afghan Deputy to the Ministry of Rural and Rehabilitation Development, says "the National Solidarity Project's total budget is $750 million and approximately $200 million has been spent in terms of supplying clean drinking water, which includes around 30 percent of National Solidarity Program.

Additionally, around $52 million has been funded by the World Bank and UNICEF over the last eight years to draft the National Irrigation Program which includes 14,500 surface water wells, 6 deep water waters, 1,709 water storage tanks and 104 irrigation networks across the country.


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