Water is one of the most important resources on earth, but only one in four people in Afghanistan’s Central Highlands has access to safe water.
Last year we received a call from the principal of a very remote school in the Central Highlands. More than 800 students attended his school, but they had no safe water or toilets. “The students are absent because they are sick,” he told us. “They get lots of diseases and have to go to hospital.”
Our team had to travel two hours to reach the school from our nearest project base. The roads were bumpy and unpaved, winding their way precariously up and down steep mountain slopes and through rivers.
“This was the most terrifying road I’ve ever been on in my life. I almost had a heart attack,” laughs Lucy Bamforth, Medair relief worker. “I was convinced we were going to roll off the mountain.”
When our team arrived safely at the school, we met students who had to walk more than three hours each way just to go to class. We also met with Alurazia, the principal. He told us that because they had no latrines, the students had to walk to the top of the mountain ridge to defecate. “On windy days, human waste blows into the playground where the students play.”
Our team made plans to build two latrine blocks at the school – one for girls, one for boys. Having a safe place to defecate helps prevent the spread of waterborne diseases and also gives the students a dignified place to use the toilet. Ali, a student at the school, told our staff, “It feels very shameful, defecating in the open. We are very happy for these latrines.”
The school also needed a source of safe water. If students were thirsty, they had to walk to the neighbouring village and drink water from an unprotected spring. It would often make them sick. In response, we built a well at the school and gave students a protected source of safe water.
People in the Central Highlands suffer from very serious, even deadly, waterborne diseases caused by contaminated water, lack of latrines, and a low level of knowledge about safe hygiene practices. To further improve health at the school, Medair provided handwashing facilities and hygiene training.
Medair hygiene trainers taught the students about the importance of washing their hands and keeping their homes clean from rubbish.
In just under a month, we built two latrine blocks, handwashing facilities, and a source of safe drinking water for these students. “Medair has given us a big help. The students are very happy,” said Alurazia. “You have made a big change for us!”
Throughout the Central Highlands, Medair runs projects like these to improve access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene in schools and villages. “The results from the safe water and hygiene training are good,” said Saiafullah, a doctor in the region. “Compared to last year, the number of diarrhoea cases have gone down by 80 to 90 percent. The projects that Medair has done have made our people happy!”