UNICEF's Initiative Stimulates Demand for Safe Water and Sanitation in Remote Communities

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By: A. Sami Malik

On World Water Day 2013, the theme 'Water Cooperation' emphasises the need to maximise improved access to safe drinking water and sanitation especially for marginalized and disadvantaged communities. In Pakistan, where water related diseases cause nearly 60 per cent of child mortality cases, UNICEF is supporting the Government to reduce the gap in achieving water and sanitation related Millennium Development Goals.

Faqir Wala village, Dera Ghazi Khan district, Pakistan, 22 March 2013 - Having realised the positive impact of safe drinking water and sanitation on her children's health, Asma, 25, treasures the contents of a hygiene kit she received from UNICEF, after her village was hit by floods nearly six months ago. She is the daughter-in-law in an 18-member household of a rural community. Under developed and marred by poverty, the entire population of about 1000 people in this village, drank polluted water and defecated in the open, not so long ago.

"We used to take water from the nearby canal or the hand pump in the village. The water was dirty and got even worse after the floods. My children would often fall sick due to diarrhoea and stomach worms. Everyone in the village suffered. After the floods, we got this new (UNICEF-installed) hand pump which has clean water. We also use medicines (Pur sachets) to make drinking water clean. Thank God, my children are much healthier now," says Asma.

Relief activities raise awareness

Torrential floods in September 2012 inundated Faqir Wala. Food became scarce and people were forced to drink polluted water. This aggravated health issues, especially amongst children. As the flood water receded, UNICEF and its partner, Muslim Aid, started conducting community hygiene sessions in the village. For the first time, people of Faqir Wala were introduced to the linkage between hygiene and health. Since raising awareness also raised the demand for services, UNICEF installed a hand pump, constructed 11 toilets, 5 bathing areas and distributed around 200 hygiene kits in the village.

"The hand pump in the village prior to the flood was installed in a shallow depth at about 35 feet and water testing was not done to ensure provision of safe drinking water," says Tufail Khan, UNICEF Water and Sanitation Officer." We had a new hand pump installed which draws water from more than 60 feet deep. This water was tested and approved by the Pakistan Council for Research in Water Resources before we advised people to use it for drinking."

A community motivated to help itself

As a result of UNICEF's post flood relief and rehabilitation activities in Faqir Wala, the community is all charged up to learn and adapt a healthy way of life. A Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) committee has been formed which comprises volunteers who try to ensure that people in the village adhere to health and hygiene practices.

Members of the WASH committee motivate fellow villagers to maintain cleanliness in and around the village, drink water from the UNICEF-installed hand pump, defecate only in latrines and wash hands with soap after defecation and before meals. Amir Hussain is a voluntary member of the committee who not only follows hygiene practices himself but also propagates to others.

"We want every house in the village to have a latrine and at least one more source of drinking water," says Amir Hussain. "We do not have the resources as our land holdings are small and most men in the village work as labourers on daily wages. With UNICEF's support, we are willing to make our own latrines and install the hand pump ourselves as we realise the benefits of drinking clean water and the convenience of using a latrine."

Pakistan Approach to Total Sanitation

The Pakistan Approach to Total Sanitation (PATS) is the UNICEF initiative taken after the floods of 2010 to upscale rural sanitation in the flood-affected areas. The Government of Pakistan has started implementation of PATS. UNICEF is one of the leading partners to the Government in this programme. All villages in Union Council Kot Chutta, of which Faqir Wala is one, are going to benefit from PATS in near future.

"On World Water Day, UNICEF reaffirms its commitment to work closely with the Government, to support increased access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation facilities," says Simone Klawitter, Chief, WASH UNICEF Pakistan. "PATS is a holistic human rights based approach to sanitation. On one hand, it creates public demand and on the other, encourages communities to constyruct their own latrines and regularly use the facilities. This is especially important for women and children as they are most vulnerable to water borne diseases"

Under PATS, a new series of Hygiene promotion sessions, training of village masons on construction of low cost house hold latrines, Community Resource Persons, entrepreneurs to establish sanitation mart for provision of sanitation material and linkages development are due to start in Faqir Wala within the next few weeks.