Children gathered at a community water point. Photo: Action Against Hunger, Afghanistan
Until recently, residents of Afghanistan’s Ghor province struggled to access safe drinking water. Decades of heavy armed conflict combined with widespread poverty and displacement have left many villages in Ghor without adequate water or sanitation infrastructure. A rapid needs assessment conducted by Action Against Hunger in 2019 showed that over three-quarters of households in the province were collecting their water from unsafe sources, and only a handful of those surveyed (5%) knew how to treat water to make it safe for drinking. Less than half had handwashing facilities at home. “Lack of clean drinking water was an issue which was making the difficult life for us even more difficult,” says Hajer, a mother of five.
The lack of sanitation infrastructure also meant that open defecation was common practice, causing discomfort and indignity and leaving residents – particularly children – vulnerable to deadly diarrheal disease. “We had no proper latrine at home, and it was very difficult for women to do open defecation, especially during the day,” says Hajer.
Action Against Hunger works in many ways to improve Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in Ghor as part of the multiyear Improved Nutrition in Afghanistan development project funded by Global Affairs Canada. To address the urgent need for safe drinking water, Action Against Hunger’s WASH teams constructed and rehabilitated water points and distributed Bio Sand Filters – economical, easy-to-use devices that remove dangerous contaminants like bacteria and viruses from drinking water, prioritizing villages that were collecting their water from unprotected sources like rivers and streams.
The WASH teams also showed local leaders how to build, repair and maintain latrines using local materials, employing a gender-sensitive approach to ensure the safety, privacy and dignity of women using the latrines. This initiative led to the construction or rehabilitation of over 1,000 latrines in nearly 50 villages over the course of the project. In addition to training and technical support for the construction and maintenance of the latrines, Action Against Hunger’s sanitation promoters conducted follow-up activities where community members learned proper hygiene practices, particularly the importance of handwashing.
Community-led initiatives to improve hygiene practices are a simple and effective way to save lives and contribute to a healthier environment for everyone. Once the latrines had been constructed and key health messages had been shared, Ghor residents were quick to adopt healthy new habits. By the third year of the project, over 90% of targeted villages were open defecation free, and 99% of households reported that they were washing their hands before eating and at other critical times.
For Hajer, these developments have been life changing, ensuring consistent access to clean water as well as privacy and dignity for herself and her daughters. She now filters her water for drinking and cooking and has built two latrines at home to support her large family. The other members of her community have also developed healthy habits and no longer drink unfiltered water from the local stream. “Thanks to Action Against Hunger for the much-needed and very well-managed project,” she says.
The Improved Nutrition in Afghanistan project that benefited Hajer and her family is funded by Global Affairs Canada. The project encompasses Nutrition, Mental Health and Care Practices, and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) activities. In the WASH sector, the activities include construction and rehabilitation of water sources, construction of waste management structures in some health facilities, hygiene and sanitation orientation in target villages and Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) implementation.
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