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Afghanistan: Improved access to clean water

03-12-2003 News Release 03/151

On 30 November, the ICRC handed over to the local authorities a rebuilt water-supply system that serves 150,000 people in north-western Kabul.


Ten-year-old Ajmal on his way home with water from the public tap.


Seven or eight times a day, 10-year-old Ajmal pushes a wheelbarrow loaded with water-filled jerrycans from a public water tap to his home some 300 metres away. Sometimes he finds it boring, but he does not complain. The trip has become easier for him since a new tap was built.

“Before, we had to go all the way to the university to get water – and sometimes we were not allowed to take any. Now we can come as often as we need” said the boy, who is responsible for getting water for three families – 25 people in all – displaced from other parts of Kabul when their homes were destroyed by the conflict. The public tap is their only source of clean water.

Many years of conflict and several seasons of severe drought have damaged the water-supply network and dried out dams and wells in Kabul and in many other parts of Afghanistan, leaving large sections of the population without access to clean water.

In accordance with its humanitarian mandate and in cooperation with the Spanish Red Cross and the Afghan Central Authority for Water Supply and Sewerage, the ICRC began carrying out work in July 2002 to provide water for the neediest p eople in five districts of the Afghan capital, including the one where Ajmal and his family live. This involved drilling new wells, strengthening existing ones and shielding them from impurities, building pump houses and taps, and constructing reservoirs to ensure that the supply of drinking water is maintained even during electrical power outages.


Water is also important for personal hygiene. Ajmal’s seven-year-old brother washes his hands.


Lack of clean water represents a major threat to public health – a large percentage of patients in hospitals and clinics suffer from water-related diseases – but restoring access to water is also a matter of improving the quality of life for many people, especially children.

“To have a source of clean water close to home means a lot for children, who are often in charge of collecting the water,” said José Luis Diago of the Spanish Red Cross, who is managing the repair work. “When children have to go long distances to fetch water, they not only face an increased risk of injury, but they also have less time for other activities, such as attending school.”

For Ajmal, who is in his second year of school, this is certainly true. He enjoys going to school. He also likes homework and wishes he could spend more time on it. He hopes that school will be the first step towards a future career. “I want to become a doctor to help the people in my country who are sick,” he said.

In addition to the 150,000 people direc tly benefiting from the rebuilt water-supply system, a further 350,000 are estimated to benefit indirectly through the reduced strain on other water resources.

 For further information, please contact:  

 Helge Kvam, ICRC Kabul, tel. ++93 70 27 64 65 or ++873 761 24 22 60