Safe Drinking Water – a source of health and happiness for vulnerable communities
With funds from Japan, UNICEF provides safe and sufficient water to communities hosting registered Afghan refugees in KP
Haripur district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province - “We can now open the tap and drink water whenever we want,” says 10-year-old Khadija, with a broad smile.
“My father doesn’t have to go out in search of water anymore, we can wash dishes daily and have no fear of falling ill by drinking bad water.”
Not being able to access safe drinking water at home might seem strange to many across the world but for Khadija and her family, it was a daily struggle until a short while ago.
Khadija’s family lives in Bassu Mera village of Haripur district. Nearly 5,000 registered Afghan refugees are residents of this village which has hosted multiple generations of refugees since the 1980s.
Khadija’s father, Nur Khan was born in Afghanistan and migrated to Pakistan as a teenager, many years ago. Having lived in different cities in KP, he finally settled in Bassu Mera, along with his wife and three children.
Though appreciative of the hospitable local community for hosting him and many other refugees, Nur Khan refers to lack of water as a major problem faced by the residents of Bassu Mera, for years.
“Every day, soon after sunrise, someone from each household could be seen going out with containers to fetch water from wherever it could be found,” Nur Khan recollects. “Community members fighting over water was a common sight.”
The common source of water were wells, which were few and far between. Water driven from these wells was not only contaminated but would also dry up during summer. This forced residents to walk for miles in search of water.
At times, if they were lucky, they could get water from the far-off public water collection point. Otherwise, they had no choice but to buy it. With water being scarce and often contaminated, waterborne diseases and sanitation issues were prevalent.
Water related hardship faced by the community was highlighted and the Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees, Government of KP and UNICEF stepped in to help.
The project to provide safe water to scattered communities in Haripur district was launched in 2021.
The Government and people of Japan provided funds to UNICEF for exploring new sources of water, repairing and rehabilitating the existing sources and laying out a vast network of underground pipelines to ensure easy access for people in different villages.
A new water extraction point in the form of a tube well was installed in Bassu Mera.
“We could not imagine having a source of safe and abundant water within our community,” says Nur Khan. “Almost every household has built a water storage which receives water for six hours every day from the newly installed tube well.”
Two schools, one for boys and the other for girls, in the village are also being provided a regular supply of safe drinking water.
Earlier, social mobilizers who visited schools to raise awareness on health and hygiene, felt frustrated along with students as water was often not available for days – not even for handwashing. Now, children can often be seen washing their hands with soap at the water points installed in their schools.
The new tube well installed in Bassu Mera is solar powered which has eliminated the possible burden of high cost of electricity for the community.
The tube well is operated by a member of the community who has been trained in the maintenance of the water source and ensures supply to each household daily.
A critical component of this intervention is the community’s ownership and sustainability of the new water system. As part of it, each household contributes 200 rupees every month for the maintenance and repair of the tube well and the salary for the community member who operates and maintains the well.
Omar Khan is the community leader in Bassu Mera. He supervises the collection of household contributions and bookkeeping.
“I suggested the monthly contribution system in consultation with other community elders,” says Omar Khan.
“It is a machine and can develop a fault at any time. We, therefore, need to have a sustainable maintenance system to get it fixed immediately. This tube well is critical to the well-being of the community, and I consider it my duty to ensure it remains functional at all times.”
Access to safe drinking water is a basic human right. It prevents waterborne diseases, especially amongst children, and helps communities save time and energy which otherwise could be spent in fetching water from far off sources.
The project in Haripur district is benefitting more than 66,000 individuals, supporting their water, sanitation and hygiene needs.
With funding from the Government and people of Japan, UNICEF is providing access to basic Water, Sanitation and Hygiene services for the most vulnerable communities in KP, including those hosting registered Afghan refugees.