On World Humanitarian Day, UNICEF's Mohammad Azami speaks about his work with children

From bringing clean water to earthquake-affected communities to teaching families about handwashing with soap, it's all in a regular day's work

Ajmal Sherzai
19 August 2022

When a devastating 5.9 magnitude earthquake hit southeastern Afghanistan in June 2022, UNICEF was on the ground from the first day, providing humanitarian aid to families who had lost everything. 

One of the most dedicated and tireless members of that team was Mohammad Khalid Azami, UNICEF Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Officer. He spent weeks in the earthquake affected villages in Khost and Paktika Provinces, determined to bring safe, clean water, construct or rebuild dignified toilets, and distribute soap so children could wash their hands and prevent the spread of diseases.

This World Humanitarian Day, Azami shared some of his most memorable experiences during the earthquake.

Azami, right, meets with a family in Gayan
UNICEF Afghanistan
Azami, right, meets with a family in Gayan, Afghanistan, which was severely affected by the powerful earthquake which struck the region in June.

Can you introduce yourself? 

My name is Mohammad Khalid Azami. I am Afghan, originally from Maidan Wardak Province, and my background is as an engineer. Now I am a WASH Officer with UNICEF where I have been working for five years.

 

What is your main role with UNICEF?

My work with UNICEF covers the Central Region of Afghanistan, including Kabul, Logar, Kapisa, Parwan, Panjsher Maydan Wardak, Bamyan and Daikundi Provinces.

As a WASH Officer, I help provide communities clean and safe water to drink and use in their daily lives, construct toilets or rebuild them where necessary, and advocate for families to practice good hygiene. This also includes distributing soap to families in need.

I am also responsible for coordinating water and sanitation activities and humanitarian response with other UN agencies and our partners, including local organizations.

In the context of the recent earthquake, this means I help provide soap and water treatment products to prevent cholera outbreaks and spread. I also facilitate water trucking and repairs of damaged water systems, and construct emergency toilets, especially so girls and women feel safe to use them. 

Azami, left, organizes and distributes hygiene kits
UNICEF Afghanistan
Azami, left, organizes and distributes hygiene kits to families in Gayan, southeastern Afghanistan, who were affected by the June earthquake. Hygiene kits contain items like soap, detergent, sanitary pads, and a plastic bucket to collect water, and other item to ensure hygiene and dignity for families in emergency situations.

Why do you think UNICEF's role is important in a country like Afghanistan, where over 24 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance? 

Right now, over 60% of the population do not have access to clean water. The people of Afghanistan really need our help, so UNICEF's role is significant. The situation of women and children here is dire. UNICEF must help meet the enormous needs of the people, and many look to us as a lifeline. We need continuous donor support to fulfill our mandate in Afghanistan, to help provide clean water for every child and avert an even more severe humanitarian disaster.

In the areas of Paktika and Khost, for example, which were affected by the earthquake in June, there are 362,000 people who urgently need water, sanitation facilities, and hygiene supplies to stay healthy. 

 

How do you feel working for the most vulnerable children in Afghanistan?

I am really proud to work for the most vulnerable children and women of Afghanistan. They have been suffering for decades, so helping them and seeing smiles on their faces gives me comfort and satisfaction. Sometimes their stories are quite sad, but helping them gives me energy to strive harder and improve their lives as much as I can.

Azami tests the water quality
UNICEF Afghanistan
After trucking clean water to earthquake affected villages in Gayan, Afghanistan, where most children and families do not live near a natural water source, Azami tests the water quality to ensure it is safe to drink and cook with.

Can you share a story about one of your proudest moments as a humanitarian in Afghanistan? 

After the earthquake struck Paktika and Khost this June, I became responsible for part of the overall UNICEF response, especially related to water and sanitation. In the first few days, we distributed urgent supplies like blankets, clothes and tents because many families lost everything.

The weather was so hot and there was no clean water. I was really worried about the children there and how they would stay healthy. 

But within a week, UNICEF had already made such a big difference. We trucked safe water for over 10,000 people into remote communities. We began constructing over a dozen new water systems to bring this precious resource closer to homes. I helped distribute over 100,000 bars of soap. We are helping treat cases of cholera. 

Azami and a group of children in Gayan, Afghanistan display their clean hands
UNICEF Afghanistan
After completing a hygiene and handwashing demonstration, Azami and a group of children in Gayan, Afghanistan display their clean hands. UNICEF provided soap to over 55,000 people in these communities affected by the earthquake in June.

What do you want for every child in Afghanistan?

In Afghanistan, the majority of children are not able to enjoy their childhood. They do not have clean water to drink, which leads to diseases like cholera and diarrhea. Sometimes it even prevents them from going to school. 

In Gayan, for example, which was affected by the recent earthquake, we have already provided over 8,000 people with safe drinking water, and we aim to reach 2 million people with water purification tablets and soap. But we need continuous support to accomplish this goal.

My wish for children in Afghanistan is a clean, safe and healthy environment to enjoy their childhood. I want every child to have clean water, and a toilet in or near their homes where they feel safe and dignified. I want them to have healthy homes, lives and futures.