Bringing precious water to thousands of rural Afghans
December 14, 2012 by Ned Colt
|A reservoir for drinking water takes form in Afghanistan's Paktia Province. The project is slated for completion next July. Photo: IRC|
The project is finally taking a recognizable form. What had been a yawning pit in the arid sands of Afghanistan’s Paktia province just months ago now resembles a massive concrete and steel foundation with a poured concrete basement. At the surface, the area comprises something the size of two Olympic swimming pools side by side. And they are a lot deeper. By late spring of 2013, a concrete cover protecting the contents will seal the reservoir. The contents are precious; thousands of gallons of drinking water in a country where potable water is increasingly difficult to obtain.
Only 12% of Afghans in rural areas have access to clean water, putting Afghanistan at the bottom of the global list. As a result, many Afghans are forced to drink contaminated water, often from puddles, streams and canals where human and animal waste are mixed in. Consumption of contaminated water is a key factor in Afghanistan’s high child mortality rate. Another major and related cause is poor hygiene. With such a need for clean water in Afghanistan, it is no wonder the International Rescue Committee has made its provision a priority. We’ve been working on water projects here since 1996, and have completed 25 since then.
“And they’re all still working,” Akbar Jan tells me with evident satisfaction. Akbar Jan is an engineer who joined the IRC in 1991. “We make sure that the systems are simple and that the local community is trained to take care of any repairs needed. That’s why our projects succeed while many others fail.” Akbar Jan’s latest project is the one in Paktia which will bring clean water to almost 13,000 villagers there.
Earlier this year the IRC sunk two wells to reach water almost 400 feet (120 meters) deep. At the same time, a backhoe dug the immense pit where water would be stored uphill from the village. By late October, the pit was lined with steel-reinforced concrete, just in time to stop for winter. Work will resume in April, with the pumps tied into the reservoir, and the start of laying almost 16 miles (24 kilometers) of piping into the village. By the time of the project’s scheduled completion in July, Akbar Jan and his IRC team will have installed 224 taps in the new pipeline. Villagers will need to walk to the street to fill up their jugs and buckets, but that’s easier and safer that taking water from open wells and canals. Upon completion, project management will be handed over to the community. The IRC is training 160 villagers to maintain the taps, and two mechanics in general repair. The regional government has pledged to conduct quarterly tests for water quality, and will collect fees for ongoing maintenance and repair. The IRC will also train 20 community members in good hygiene practices, which should help to reduce cases of illness in the area.
The ultimate goal is that by July, the system will be running and able to provide seven gallons (30 liters) of clean water per person per day. While that may sound like a lot, consider that most of you reading this will use between ten and twenty times that amount today.
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