Improving refugees and host communities’ access to water and sanitation in Peshawar

With funds from Japan, UNICEF and Water and Sanitation Services Peshawar have helped rehabilitate water and sanitation systems in the city

A. Sami Malik
Anam Yousaf
UNICEF/Pakistan/Asad Zaidi
02 August 2022

PESHAWAR, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan – “We wash our hands with soap to keep them clean and kill the germs,” seven-year-old Anam Yousaf tells with a smile. “We wash them before eating after using the toilet and after playing in the break.”

Anam is a Grade I student at Dar-e-Arqam school in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan’s north western province, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). She and her classmates have become particular about washing their hands ever since their teacher told them the benefits of clean hands.

Until a few months ago, this would not have been possible.

“The water supply used to come only for a limited time and we had to store it for children to use during school hours,” says Gulnaz Afridi, the schools’ Principal.

“During COVID-19, we encouraged children to wash their hands frequently, but at times there was no water, and it was often contaminated. We had water filters installed in the school and encouraged children to drink only the filtered water but at times, they would still drink from the tap and fall sick,” she adds.

Anam lives with her parents and extended family not far from the school, is a congested neighbourhood called Chairman colony. This urban settlement has a population of over 20,000 people, including 6,000 registered Afghan refugees. The houses are small and multistoried but accommodate large families.

Residents of Chaman colony in Peshawar
UNICEF/Pakistan/Asad Zaidi
Residents of Chaman colony in Peshawar, like many other residential areas, had water rationing and contamination issues.

"During COVID-19, we encouraged children to wash their hands frequently, but at times there was no water, and it was often contaminated."

Principal Gulnaz Afridi

“Refugees have been living in this area for a very long time,” says Anam’s father, Yousaf Iqbal. “At one point, every other house in this area was occupied by a refugee family. As their number increased, they started developing their own settlements. This has put additional pressure on the services. Residents are facing water shortage and contamination issues,” Yousaf explains. 

Until a few months ago, residents of Chairman colony and many other urban areas in Peshawar received water only for a limited time during the day and it was not safe for drinking.

New ground water extraction pumps
UNICEF/Pakistan/Asad Zaidi
New ground water extraction pumps have been installed to ensure improvement in efficient water supply.

Depleting ground water resources, old infrastructure and sewage occasionally seeping into the main water supply lines impeded access to safe drinking water across the city. It was compounded by a growing population and an increase in the number of refugee families.

Installing new ground water pumps and regulating the cleaning of sewerage drains in the city had become critical.

In 2021, with funds from the Government and people of Japan, UNICEF launched a project to improve families’ access to WASH services, with a focus on Afghan refugee communities and Pakistani host communities living in two provinces -- Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

UNICEF’s work was closely coordinated with provincial and local authorities. In Peshawar, the project was led by the Water and Sanitation Services Peshawar (WSSP). It aimed to ensure a sufficient supply of improved quality water, to clean drains, to improve solid waste management and to ensure that roads and streets were regularly swept to prevent garbage from blocking the drainage system.  

cleaning of drainage lines and removal of solid waste
UNICEF/Pakistan/Asad Zaidi
Regular cleaning of drainage lines and removal of solid waste is part of improving water supply and quality in Peshawar city.

“An ever-increasing population has stretched the capacities of the water supply system in Peshawar,” says Obaidullah, WSSP Project Coordinator. “With Japanese funds and UNICEF’s technical assistance, we have replaced the hardware component and services, increased our human resources and led behavioural change communication campaigns,” he explains.

Under the project, new ground water extraction pumps have been installed, equipment for regular removal of solid waste and cleaning of drainage lines has been procured, fresh water supply pipelines have been laid and the sewerage system is now regularly cleaned to prevent water contamination.

Using the latest technologies, the project has helped made the water supply and delivery system more efficient while monitoring water quality in real time, to the benefit of the most vulnerable families.

Under the project, UNICEF and WSSP are also working to strengthen the Community Liaison Cell (CLC) to improve communities’ knowledge and practice of good hygiene and safe water handling. It has helped create public demand for services and generate revenue for them.

“The WSSP project has not only resolved the water supply and quality issues which we faced, but it has made our streets cleaner,” Anam’s father Yousaf Iqbal tells.

“People used to throw garbage outside their houses, which clogged the open drainage and stunk. It also caused our children, who usually play on the street, to fall sick quite often. Now the WSSP cleaning staff ensures that the drains are never blocked. We have sufficient water supply, and the quality has improved. Last but not least, all the residents have become aware of the need to keep their surroundings clean.”

Yousaf Iqbal
UNICEF/Pakistan/Asad Zaidi
Anam’s father, Yousaf Iqbal pours her a drink of water, which the residents of Chaman colony and other areas of Peshawar get in abundance.

In Peshawar, around 160,000 people are now benefitting from improved WASH services which also cover 13 educational institutions and four health facilities. Overall, the Japan funded, UNICEF-supported project is benefitting nearly 375,000 people in KP and Balochistan realize their right to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.