Safe drinking water for returnees in remote Afghanistan

No matter how high the mountain, UNICEF provides essential services for families like Nuria’s

By Betty Chella Nalungwe
22 March 2022

KUNAR PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN - Nuria has lived in Garang Village all her life. It has always been challenging, especially as a mother of seven. Her children would often miss school, instead spending long hours trekking up and down mountains to fetch water, standing in long lines while they helped fill the containers for their families.

“Due to lack of safe drinking water sources, we used to buy water from tankers, but it was expensive.  We could not afford it any more so, we resorted to drinking unclean, surface water instead,” says Nuria.

A wide view of the dry, arid Garang Village in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, where UNICEF supported construction of a new water supply system.
UNICEF Afghanistan/2022/Nalungwe
Garang Village is beautiful, but dry. Clean, safe water is essential, especially for families with young children, to maintain good health and hygiene.

Nestled in the mountains of eastern Kunar Province, Garang Village is hilly in parts, but covered mostly by dry desert. The rough mountain peaks are treacherous and covered with snow for most of the year. Afghans live in the fertile valleys between mountains, where they grow vegetables and citrus fruits, selling them in local markets and along highways to earn a living.  

Girl in Jalalabad, Afghanistan collecting water with a plastic water jug from a faraway source, before UNICEF supported construction of a new water system in the community.
UNICEF Afghanistan/2022
Before construction of the new water system, residents of Garang Village had to walk long distances to collect water for daily use.

This rural idyll has seen a lot of movement in the last six months. Since mid-August 2021 and the uncertainty that followed, many Afghans fled abroad. Some have since returned and made their homes in Garang Village. As a result, Garang is now quite densely populated, home to 1,882 people, including 615 children.

With funding support from the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), UNICEF partnered with the Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees (DACAAR) to bring clean, piped water into 88 homes in Garang Village.

First, UNICEF and DACAAR assessed which families in the village were most vulnerable and in need, such as those with young children. The 88 households were then connected to the new water system: clean water piped down from mountain sources, rather than nearby ponds and unclean rivers. Water pressure is created from gravity and piped into individual homes.

In Jalalabad Afghanistan, Nuria's family stands next to their new borehole, built as part of the town's water supply system with support from UNICEF.
UNICEF Afghanistan/2022/Nalungwe
Nuria and her family stand next to their new borehole, which pipes clean water directly to their house from the village's new water system. UNICEF has supported construction of five new water systems like this one since July 2021.

Garang community elders responded positively. They established committees for distribution, operation and maintenance of the water system. Third party monitors were engaged by DACAAR.

In addition to supporting new water systems, UNICEF trained community mobilisers who taught 307 families in Garang Village about critical hygiene practices, including personal hygiene, safe water storage and how to keep their homes clean.  These hygiene awareness sessions were complemented by distribution of ‘hygiene kits’ which included items like bath and laundry soap, toothbrushes, and sanitary pads for girls.  

In Garang Village, Ms. Faika Farzana, UNICEF’s Acting Chief of Field Office for the Eastern Region, cuts the inaugural ribbon to officially hand over the water system to the community.
UNICEF Afghanistan/2022/Nalungwe
In Garang Village, Ms. Faika Farzana, UNICEF’s Acting Chief of Field Office for the Eastern Region, cuts the inaugural ribbon to officially hand over the water system to the community.

The water supply system in Garang Village is one of five completed since July 2021. With additional systems planned for construction in 2022, more than 1,000 children will gain access to clean, safe water.

Nuria’s children and many more will now spend precious time in school, as opposed to long hours fetching water.