|Afghan students in show off their clean hands at a primary school equipped with improved sanitation facilities.|
By Cornelia Walther
MAZAR, Afghanistan, 3 August 2010 – “My parents have told me that it is important to wash my hands when I come from the toilet, but at home I first have to look for water,” said Sami, 8, a resident of the northern Afghan city of Mazar. “Every morning and evening, my two elder sisters and I go to the tap stand in front of our house to fetch water.”
Sami’s family is among the few that have a tap stand, which provides safe water in close proximity to their house. Clean running water and improved toilets are still rare luxuries in Afghanistan’s rural areas. Less than half of the country’s 27 million people have access to improved drinking water sources. The situation has worsened due to inadequate rainfall over the past two years.
Links to child mortality
A shadow passes over Sami’s face when he talks about his brother. “We were six in our family, two boys and four girls, but my baby brother died of diarrhoea last Ramadan,” he says.
|Young people fetch water on a street in Mazar city, Afghanistan.|
Poor hygiene awareness, insufficient access to safe water and lack of sanitary toilets are major factors contributing to the widespread presence of diarrhoeal diseases – particularly during the summer, when temperatures reach up to 40 degrees Celsius.
“Sick children cannot absorb knowledge, no matter the quality of their teachers or books,” says UNICEF Water and Sanitation Officer Farida Khurami.
Last year, UNICEF provided close to 400,000 students with safe drinking water and sanitation infrastructure in Afghanistan. And through its new country programme for 2010 through 2013, UNICEF plans to equip 8,000 more schools with water and sanitation facilities, including separate toilets for boys and girls.
Agents of change
Ahmed, 12, is a student at the Abmin Boys High School in Shebergan. He walks an hour and a half hour from his house to fetch water, so access to drinking water at school has been a welcome change. “I love to go to school,” he says. “We can just go to the tap in the school courtyard and splash our face and have a drink.”
|At school in Mazar, Afghanistan, Ahmed, 12, and his friends refresh themselves during a break between lessons.|
UNICEF is also working to educate students on safe hygiene practices with the hope that they become the agents of change.
“Once per week, our teacher explains how we have to wash our hands and face and hair, and also that we have to cut our nails regularly to keep them clean,” says Ahmend. “At home, I explain everything to my sister.” Noting that his mother was rather skeptical in the beginning, he adds that now she has started to listen, “and sometimes she even does what I say.”
Access to safe water at school has also given Ahmed new goals. “I want to become an engineer, building water wells everywhere, for everybody,” he says.