Afghans Crave For Drinking Water

by VR Sreeraman on  January 1, 2009 at 1:15 PM Lifestyle News   - G J E 4
Elderly Noor Din is angry with his neighbours. "Last night these brutal people did not give me water for drinking," he fumes.
 Afghans Crave For Drinking Water
Afghans Crave For Drinking Water

The previous day he had been unable to push through the crowd to get a turn at the nearest tap which is about 300 metres (yards) down a steep path from his hillside home.

The tap serves more than 80 houses in his part of Kabul, the scrappy Afghan capital of around four million people where only a privileged few have water piped into their homes.

It only works a few hours a day and Noor Din, whose face betrays a hard life during which five of his children were killed in a single bombing, could not find a way to the front to fill the containers he then has to lug uphill.

For him, there is no question of paying the water carriers who make the trip several times a day with pitchers strapped to their backs or to donkeys.

As a cleaner at Kabul University, he earns 3,000 afghani (60 dollars) a month. "That is not enough for my food," he says. "So how can I pay for my water?"

About 28 percent of homes in urbanised Afghanistan have piped water, according to the government. The rate is far lower in the country's destitute rural areas.

The water supply is not always safe, sometimes contaminated with domestic waste.

Two-thirds of urban households have access to safe drinking water, mostly from wells, hand pumps and a limited piped supply, according to the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS).

This figure plummets to 26 percent in rural areas, says the ANDS, and four out of five rural Afghans are estimated to be consuming contaminated water.

"Waste water and human excreta from sewers, cesspits and people defecating in the open air further impair the living environment and the water supply of the poor," it says.

The shortage of quality water in Kabul enables 16-year-old Ahmadullah to make a tidy sum plying the zig-zag route near Noor Din's home.

"I am contracted to nine houses and each house pays me 1,200 afghani a month," he said as his two donkeys slowly negotiated the path. "Some of them pay me monthly, some daily. I can earn more money than people who repair roofs."

Most of the simple mudbrick homes on this west Kabul hill, which was a launching pad for some of the hundreds of rockets fired into city in the 1990s civil war, were built without official permission.

As a result, they have not been included in the national development drive launched after the 2001 fall of the Taliban regime, said the minister of urban development, Engineer Yousef Pashtun.

Nevertheless, his department wants to supply all residents, no matter where they live, with piped water, he said.

"All the people who live in Kabul, whether on the top of mountains or below, they are entitled to services," he said.

The city also relies on groundwater which is not sufficient for its burgeoning population, he said.

Kabul's population exploded after the Taliban's fall, which led millions of exiles to begin returning home and sent country dwellers flocking to the capital in search of work.

The strain this places on urban civil services has been compounded by delays to water projects, Pashtun said, citing plans to bore 21 wells in Kabul that were put on hold for 18 months because the government could not get the land it needed.

But he said 21 projects worth 60 million dollars have been completed or are under way in various cities.

The ministry needs up to 250 million dollars in investment to complete the ANDS plans, which include ensuring that 50 percent of the urban population has access to piped water by 2015, he said.

The developments could not come soon enough for the people of this bleak Kabul hill.

"My back gets rubbed raw from climbing up with 30 litres of water on my back," grumbles Naqibullah, a resident in his late 30s, as he fixes the roof of his small home.

Source: AFP

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