|A girl drinks water from a UNICEF-provided hand pump, while another girl waits her turn, at Phool-e-Rangeena Government School in the north-western Afghan city of Heart.|
By David Koch
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, 12 March 2009 – Water is the most basic element necessary to sustain life, but less than quarter of all Afghans currently have ready access to it. Less than a third of the population is able to use adequate sanitation facilities, and even fewer have access to improved drinking-water sources.
Since 2001, Afghanistan has seen tremendous progress, including increased access to safe water in schools, targeted sanitation training, additional community water facilities and the adoption of a new national policy on hygiene. However, more remote areas of the country still face roadblocks to access by aid organizations.
UNICEF's water, sanitation and hygiene programme here aims to overcome these challenges, improving access to water and raising overall hygiene awareness for the entire region.
A springboard to development
UNICEF has set up a partnership with the Afghan Government to develop sustainable, community-based solutions. Schools and health centres are key entry points. Providing water points and gender-specific latrines results in better health for all, as well as increasing the enrolment of young girls in primary schools.
|Afghan girls help each other wash hands, using water they have collected from a nearby stream, on the steps of the UNICEF-provided latrine at Bam Sarai School in the central province of Bamyan.|
"One of the reasons that the girls do not attend school is because there are no sanitation facilities," said UNICEF's Jalalabad Head of Office, Prakash Tuladhar. "It is very important that water and sanitation are built as components of the school programme. If there are no latrines, then it is almost certain that girls will not be attending schools."
This is a critical point, because education for girls and women is a prerequisite for a nation's ability to develop and prosper.
UNICEF supports women's literacy initiatives, specifically targeting internally displaced persons and returnees. And UNICEF-sponsored 'Behaviour Change Committees' teach populations about safe water, sanitation and hygiene practices.
Bringing good health to schools
Another UNICEF-sponsored project in Afghanistan, the 'Healthy School Initiative', aims not only to improve the learning environment for children but also to teach them valuable lessons they can share with their families at home. Students are taught the correct way to brush their teeth and wash their hands with soap and water, as well as basic first-aid training.
In the schools, the initiative provides students with drinking water and latrines, de-worming tablets and safe play areas where they can interact with their peers without fear of encountering a landmine.
"Our teachers are helping us learn about sanitation and hygiene. We have clean potable water in our school," explained one student, Zahra, 15.
Building towards a sustainable future, UNICEF also supports the development of new technology in school facilities, including rainwater harvesting, solar power and eco-toilets.
National and global partnerships
UNICEF is able to make this kind of progress only through partnerships, both on the local level – with communities, young people and governments; and on a global scale – with non-governmental organizations, other UN agencies, National Committees for UNICEF and the private sector.
Through such collaborative international efforts, UNICEF is working to ensure that all of Afghanistan's children have access to safe water, improved sanitation and good hygiene.