Dirty water, more deadly than war

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 133 Afghan children die every day because of the effects diarrhoea. That adds up to over 48,000 children a year.  While Afghans are certainly affected by the conflict within their country, the number of Afghan deaths attributed to the war in 2011 was just over 3,000.  That means fifteen times more children are dying annually, from an extremely common and easily treated medical condition, than the entire number of men, women and children killed in the war.

Dirty water resulted in 15 times as many deaths for children alone as all the casualities of the armed conflict for the entire population. 

Robat e Hashim is a village that has, historically, had very a very high number of diarrhoeal cases, even for Afghanistan. Without access to clean water, residents relied on contaminated river water for all their needs, including drinking.

Del Jan, 45, is a mother of six. She and her family live in Robat e Hashim village. To this day, access to clean for them remains a struggle.

“Every day when my 12-year-old daughter, Arezo, comes back from school, she takes the barrel to go fetch water from well,” says Del Jan, noting that the nearest well is about 200 metres away and explaining that for cultural reasons she is unable to gather the water herself.

“She has a cart and usually carries five barrels, which is around 50 litres of water,” some days one trip to the well is enough, other days Arezo must make the trip four times or more.

 “In the winter is so difficult for me to go to the well and gather water.. Sometimes I fall or drop the barrel, [When that happens,] I have to go back and gather water again," says Aerzo.

Carrying such a big load is difficult for the young girl, especially when weather conditions are harsh. “In the winter is so difficult for me to go to the well and gather water,” says Arezo. “My hands freeze and become red making it hard to carry the barrel,” she says, explains that during the winter, the road conditions make it impossible for her to use the cart, forcing her to make many more trips to the well in frigid temperatures, carrying one bucket at a time.  “Sometimes I fall or drop the barrel,” she says.

“[When that happens] I have to go back and gather water again.” Water collection takes a lot Arezo’s time; time which would be better spent studying.

And, when Arezo is unable to gather the water, the task falls to her 4-year-old sister. “Sometime Arezo is sick and can’t gather water. [When that happens,]I have to give a small barrel to my 4-year-old daughter to fetch water from well,” explains Del Jan with disappointment in her voice.

Despite their daily difficulties, things are getting better. Until recently, the family had no access to clean water. They were forced to rely on river water for all their needs. Now, thanks to World Vision’s support one deep well exists. Nevertheless, there is still much work to be done as the distance and long queues continue to be an obstacle to access to clean water for everyone all the time.

“I know that [the number of people with] diarrhoea is less than before, but still people-including my family-are suffering from that,” says Del Jan.

In addition to the physical suffering, diarrhoea is also a financial burden to many families as well.  “The economic condition of people here is not good,” explains Den Jan, explaining that many families simply do not have the resources to pay for the medicines their families need when faced with diarrhoea.

“If we have clean water in our homes, the diarrhoea disease would be less and our money could be saved for buying other importance things, such as fruits and vegetables for our children,” says Del Jan. 

“If we have clean water in our homes, the diarrhoea disease would be less and our money could be saved for buying other importance things, such as fruits and vegetables for our children,” she adds.

It is estimated that out of a rural population of 18 million people, approximately 14 million do not have access to safe drinking water in Afghanistan. Water-borne diseases are still the leading cause of death in Afghanistan.               

References

Sayed Jawad, “133 Children Die a Day in Afghanistan”, Khaama Press, January 6, 2013

Alissa J. Rubin, “Record Number of Afghan Civilians Died in 2011, Mostly in Insurgent Attacks, U.N. Says”, The New York Times,

HPIC April 2013

UNHCR report, February 2006