It was in July 2002, when I arrived with my colleagues in the small town of Ab Baksh in Western Afghanistan in order to clarify the last details about a school building for 700 girls and boys in the community. In my capacity as desk officer of the Afghanistan projects, I was travelling to the country to get my own view of the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, for it is HELP's not to plan projects from the remote office in Germany, but to personally look at the situation on-site, always responding to the concrete need of the population.
Ab Baksh is one of 15 sites, where HELP is constructing schools with private donations and funds of the German Ministry of Development (BMZ) for a total of 9.500 pupils. However, talks with the population of Ab Baksh revealed that their distress was much greater than we first assumed. "We are in dire need of your help, for we don't have anything to drink", solicited the town principal Omar. How right he was became apparent when looking at the meagre faces of the town's children and by the intense smell of the men at the town assembly. For people who have no drinking water, hygienics is an unreachable luxury. We noticed that 5.000 families in Ab Baksh were fighting a daily battle against thirst and contagious diseases.
But how could we help? We quickly realized, that there was no sense in drilling deep wells, as the groundwater was much too salty due to the drought of the preceding years. "But where do you get the scarce water, that you need to survive?", was my question. "Every sip is carried here by donkeys from a spring in the mountains over a distance of 50 kilometres . There is sufficient water, but it is always a 2-day-trip", Omar told me.
In the evening I sat down with my colleagues and our Afghan engineers and soon the idea was born to build a water pipeline. 49 kilometres long and with a difference in altitude of 1.200 metres. "That will be the longest waterpipeline of Afghanistan. A huge challenge, but we can make it",our engineer Nazir said. "And in the end the survival of 25.000 of my people depends on that."
During the next months our two offices in Herat and Qala ye Now was were busily planning this water project. Afghan water-specialists were hired, offers for water pipes obtained, water rights negotiated with the surrounding communities, plans were designed and rejected again. An investor had to be found, because such an ambitious project could not be financed solely from private donations. And finally we were successful.
Now in December 2002 we could celebrate the ground-breaking ceremony. Until July 2003 up to 500 workers will work on the trench and, as an additional effect of the project, will obtain a small income. The women will also be involved, as a committee for hygienic education was founded. As a donor we were able to win the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO).
Marco Oberm=FCller, HELP project manager on-site, is confident, that the project will be successful. "Surely we will have many obstacles to overcome, but in July 2003 Ab Baksh will have enough water to drink", he assures.
Berthold Engelmann, project coordinator Bonn.