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Afghanistan: a village in Bamiyan province vows to get clean water

22-07-2009 Feature

Life is tough for people living in rural Afghanistan, including those in the beautiful but remote province of Bamiyan. The ICRC's Habibullah Hussaini met villagers who are determined to make a difference in their lives by improving their access to clean drinking water.


  © ICRC/J. Barry    
  Women and children have to break the ice to get water from the streams outside Gumbad village in winter.    

Gumbad village nestles in a narrow valley 25 kilometres north-west of Bamiyan town. Here, 145 families eke out a living in extreme weather conditions, with temperatures plummeting to minus 25-30 degre es Celsius in winter. Collecting fodder for their livestock and firewood to ward off the cold is a big challenge for villagers. Summers are cool, but the terrain is harsh, the livestock sickly and the land infertile.

Family members share tasks equally amongst themselves, with the men taking care of the animals while the women look after the household.

 Struggling to survive  


Like communities in other parts of Bamiyan, the residents of Gumbad village have been hit hard by Afghanistan’s decades of conflict. After the events of 11 September 2001 in the United States of America and the creation of the transitional government in Kabul a year later, many people moved to neighbouring provinces or to Iran or Pakistan in the hope of finding security and work. Some of them have since returned to the village but find it hard to piece their lives back together because everything they left behind was destroyed while they were away.

Life in Gumbad village today is hard in many ways. One major source of hardship is the lack of safe water. Thus humans and livestock have no choice but to rely on the contaminated water from streams and traditional irrigation canals.

It is generally the women and children – both girls and boys – who collect and transport the water from the streams, even when the land is covered in snow and the water lies under a sheet of ice.


It is therefore hardly surprising that children fall ill, in winter with pneumonia and in summer with diarrhoea. The village has no clinic, and people have lit tle choice but to walk several kilometres to reach the nearest doctor. Khadim ain, one of the elders in Gumbad, recalls a doctor blaming contaminated water for many of the villagers’ health woes.

 Making a difference    
  © ICRC/J. Barry    
  Workmen digging a trench for the pipeline that will bring water from a mountain spring to the village.    

Elders and community members convened a meeting to discuss the water problem and how to resolve it. They remembered receiving food from the ICRC back in 2002, and decided to ask the organization for help again. ICRC water engineers visited the village and consulted the elders. Many administrative procedures followed. The engineers submitted to the ICRC office in Bamiyan a list of the needs that the villagers considered important, and the proposal was approved by the ICRC delegation in Kabul.

The Gumbad village project started in June 2009. Between 25 and 30 daily labourers are engaged in digging a trench for the 3,500-metre pipe which will run from a spring – a safe water source up in the mountains – to the village.

No matter how exhausted the labourers become, they know what a difference their efforts will make for the women and children – and indeed for the whole village – once the pipe is laid. As for the water carriers, they are counting the minutes until the work is finished.