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Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Real lives

Afghanistan: water and sanitation services under fire

© UNICEF/HQ00-0858/Lemoyne
Two boys collect water from a handpump located near ruins in the village of Jabrail, Afghanistan.

The need for safe water in Afghanistan was already crucial before the bombing started in October 2001. The country was in the midst of the worst drought in 30 years, and was also suffering from the effects of the Taliban’s dismantling of women-led hygiene education programmes and mass communication iniatives.

The two most deadly health risks in most emergencies are insufficient or unsafe water and inadequate sanitation, causing disease outbreaks. Responding to the ongoing drought, UNICEF launched a relief programme in 2000 with financial support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the government of Denmark. 

"By ‘working around the war’ UNICEF and its partners continued to provide water and sanitation at a critical time."

To prevent cholera and diarrhoea epidemics, UNICEF and its partners constructed and rehabilitated wells and latrines, installed handpumps and trucked water to villages in some areas. By the end of the year, UNICEF had provided at least minimum water and sanitation services to 300,000 people in over 500 villages. As the drought worsened, UNICEF strove to provide water and sanitation to 600 additional communities. 

Bombing began before this goal could be reached, making a difficult situation nearly impossible. But with over 35 years of work on the ground in Afghanistan, UNICEF had built trust within communities and was able to provide emergency water and sanitation services under these extreme circumstances.


© UNICEF/HQ00-0945/Lemoyne
A boy collects water at a Mark II handpump provided by UNICEF, near the town of Laghman in the province of the same name.

Cross-border efforts from Turkmenistan, Iran and Pakistan allowed UNICEF and its partners to ‘work around the war’. The first convoy of emergency aid hit the streets of the northern Afghan town of Andokhoy, bringing water containers for 10,000 families, water purification tablets and oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhoea. Over 100,000 health kits and paediatric medicines were included.

But shipping supplies from outside the borders was not nearly enough to avoid a humanitarian crisis. The drought-affected and war-weary nation needed to drill new wells and rehabilitate and deepen old ones — tasks that required workers inside the country. The Afghan Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation was inoperable in all areas except the west. What would seem insurmountable odds to some became a call to action for UNICEF.

Through its community-level involvement, UNICEF was able to quickly identify people to keep emergency water and sanitation activities going. Working with Afghani non-governmental organizations and local companies, UNICEF was able to mobilize teams that could continue to ‘work around the war’, using essential materials, such as handpumps and pipes, that UNICEF delivered to the Pakistan/Afghanistan border.

Delivering supplies and maintaining safe water and sanitation facilities were risky during the on-going war, but UNICEF and its partners were determined to prevent a humanitarian disaster of rampant disease resulting from a lack of  water and sanitation services. By the end of the three-month period of bombing, about 855,000 people in 1,080 villages were provided with nearly 2,000 safe drinking water points and 3,700 sanitary latrines. An additional 1 million displaced persons received basic water and sanitation services.



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