Water and environmental sanitation


Water and environmental sanitation

© UNICEF Afghanistan

UNICEF’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme provides support service to UNICEF interventions in the programme focus areas in Afghanistan with the aim of increasing access to clean water, while promoting household sanitation and raising awareness within communities on the importance of good hygiene and healthy behaviours.

UNICEF partners with the government (MRRD, MOE, and MoPH), UN agencies, NGO’s and rural communities to address challenges of a shortage of potable water, and poor sanitation (open defection) and hygiene practices.

WASH programmes cover a wide-range of activities, including advocacy and support to policy and decision makers (SWA, SACOSAN) and influencing the policies that are fundamental to gain political will for improving access in communities and in schools.

WASH in communities - Initiatives in communities include the building and rehabilitation of wells and construction of mini piped water systems in villages as well as supporting the establishment of water quality mechanisms and promoting the use of household water treatment methods to ensure access to “safe” water. Promoting the construction and use of sanitation facilities at the household level is another key intervention, along with raising awareness among children and families of the importance of hand washing for better health and in preventing the spread of diseases. UNICEF supports the scale up of the Community Led Total Sanitation campaign in the 10 focus provinces with a special focus in the south of Afghanistan where the polio virus is widespread. The aim of the programme is to expand the ODF (Open Defection Free) initiative.

Around 500,000 people benefit annually from UNICEF WASH in communities programmes in Afghanistan. The main challenge is operation and maintenance.

WASH in Schools - UNICEF also works with its partners in schools to bring water, sanitation facilities and hygiene education to nearly 500 schools across Afghanistan every year. Through awareness-raising, students develop sound hygiene practices which they can share with their families, and are further motivated to stay in school.  In addition to schools becoming child-friendly, another initiative has been to incorporate menstrual hygiene facilities and hygiene promotion for adolescent school girls to make schools more girl child friendly.

WASH in Emergencies -
UNICEF provides leadership and coordination for the WASH cluster – a consortium of UN agencies, local and international NGOs that work together to ensure integrated responses to humanitarian disasters. In communities that are stricken with natural disasters, their initial basic needs are catered to through effective WASH Cluster response in critical areas such as safe drinking water and sanitation and hygienic materials. As per the most recent data available, 800,000 affected persons and IDPs benefit from UNICEF WASH interventions annually in Afghanistan.

Current situation and key issues:

Even though there is good progress toward achieving MDGs on access to water; there is still 47% of the rural population who need to gain access to improved water.

Water quality is a much overlooked in Afghanistan even though it has been established that some water sources have chemicals of health significance (particularly arsenic, fluoride and nitrate) in concentrations significantly above safe levels for health for long term consumption as established by World Health Organisation reports.    

Some progress has been made on access to improved sanitation in Afghanistan and in reducing open defecation, particularly in urban areas since 1990, but much less than for access to water supply. The country still has a long way to go to achieve the MDGs in sanitation in both rural and urban areas. Approximately 28 per cent of people across Afghanistan have access to improved sanitation.

People with disabilities face multiple barriers to their involvement in WASH programmes and in accessing facilities, especially sanitation. It is estimated that fourteen per cent of families in Afghanistan have a member who has a disability so there is likely to be a huge need.

Knowledge and practice of good hand-washing behaviours is still low across Afghanistan, although people report washing their hands most just before eating (40 to 80% of people self-report this practice in different studies. The government budget has almost no allocations for the WASH sector and the financial requirements to ensure that every Afghan has access to improved water and sanitation are not prioritised by the Government.

Key achievements – Afghanistan’s rural sector has today a strong water and sanitation sector reform agenda, based on a paradigm shift towards decentralization, demand responsiveness and a people-centered approach. This is increasingly taking the Government from being a direct service provider to a facilitator in rural communities (MRRD and its arms to the village level CDCs).

The relationship between access to water and sanitation and improvements in nutrition, education, polio and DRR, is now more widely acknowledged among partners.   




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