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Finnish funding enables UNICEF to provide safe water to school children in Afghanistan

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2011/Froutan
Boys crowd around a hand pump for a drink of water at school in the city of Mazar, northern Afghanistan. The pump is part of a water, sanitation and hygiene package funded by the Government of Finland.

By Patricia Lone

MAZAR, Afghanistan, 23 May 2011 – The first thing that catches your eye, as you enter Abdul Khaleq School, is the sun glinting off the galvanized metal of the new water pump and sink and the sparkling of water droplets as children drink, and wash their hands and faces.

The pump and sink are in high demand, and the school’s 1,523 students line up to drink and wash at the six taps throughout the school day’s morning and afternoon shifts.

Safe water, good hygiene

The new pump and taps are part of the package of improvements in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in schools in four provinces of northern Afghanistan made possible with funding from the Government of Finland. The other package components include separate latrines for boys and girls, an improvement that has proved critical to keeping girls in school all over the world. Hygiene education training for teachers and hygiene education materials for classes are also provided.

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2011/Froutan
Girls enjoy the convenience of clean water in their school compound in the city of Mazar, northern Afghanistan.

Finland has contributed $1.33 million to UNICEF since 2010 for school water and sanitation in Afghanistan. The funding has enabled UNICEF to extend improvements in water supply and sanitation facilities to nearly 77,000 children in 94 schools in northern Afghanistan in the first year of the project. A similar number is expected to be reached in 2011.

Among them are 344 students at Zabihulla School, which opened in late 2010. Enrolment is growing and the WASH facilities are an asset that attracts students. The teachers trained in WASH through the project have established a Health Club at the school where students learn how to make an oral rehydration solution to prevent dehydration from diarrhoea. They also learn about hygiene and health issues.

“The school has strong community support, including financial support,” says Principal Lalmohammad. His aim is to reinforce the close relationship between the school and community by having students conduct a community hygiene education campaign, going door-to-door to teach community members with life-saving information on health and hygiene.

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2011/Froutan
A girl participates in a hygiene class in a school in the city of Mazar, northern Afghanistan.

Improving child health

Access to safe water and good sanitation is a major challenge for the people of Afghanistan, and it has serious implications for the health of children in particular. Diarrhoeal diseases, linked to poor hand washing and hygiene practices, as well as inadequate sanitation, are a significant cause of death among children under five in Afghanistan.

Only 48 per cent of the population uses a safe drinking water source and a mere 37 per cent use improved sanitation facilities. The funding is particularly important for the arid areas of northern Afghanistan, where water is scarce and drought a recurrent threat.

“I really enjoy attending my school, which has WASH facilities, and I can drink safe and clean water as much as I need and want,” said Hamed, a student at Abdul Khaleq School.

Similar sentiments are likely to be heard from the other students in Balkh, Samangan, Saripul and Jawzjan provinces who, thanks to Finnish funding, are enjoying the benefits of safe water and sanitation.



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