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Bringing Safe Water and Sanitation to Afghan Returnees

Over five million Afghan refugees have returned to the country since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Sadly, many returnees have little to go back to. With their homes destroyed and no land to build on, thousands have been forced into camps where access to even the most basic of services is limited.

With the support of the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO), International Medical Corps has been addressing one of the most critical needs faced by the residents of four camps in Kunar province: safe water and better sanitation.

The four camps of Gatu Qala, Chinari, Khas Kunar and Tango are home to over 11,000 Afghan returnees. When International Medical Corps assessed the needs of the camps residents they found an alarmingly short supply of clean drinking water and virtually no latrines. Unless addressed quickly the health consequences were acute, with an increase in diseases like diarrhea, dysentery, worms and malaria a high-risk.

Since March 2008, International Medical Corps has built a total of 35 new wells and rehabilitated 6 existing wells across the four camps providing at least 15 litres of water per person, per day for every resident.

To ensure the wells were maintained properly, each camp established water maintenance committees chaired by the respective Shura (traditional community councils) leaders. The committees were equipped with the necessary tools and spare parts to repair and maintain the wells and trained in appropriate maintenance.

In addition to the wells International Medical Corps partnered with the local community to build nearly 300 household latrines and 25 communal latrines serving around 3,000 people.

Furthermore, we supplied the communities with a total of 1,500 hygiene kits consisting of such items as towels, buckets, hand water reservoirs, soap, nail cutters, combs, tooth brushes, tooth paste, and plastic bags to contain the items. The purpose of the hygiene kits was to demonstrate to families which materials are needed for better hygiene practices, as well as provide materials for water distribution from the water points. Alongside all of the above International Medical Corps implemented ongoing hygiene training for nearly 9,000 community members.

Residents of the Khas Kunar camp wrote to International Medical Corps to thank us for our efforts, saying, “Despite the fact that there are security concerns in Kunar province, especially in Khas Kunar district, International Medical Corps has continued digging wells so that the residents of the camp receive safe drinking water. All residents of the camp appreciate the activities of International Medical Corps that accepted the risky environment of Kunar province and continued its work.”

International Medical Corps Program Co-ordinator in Afghanistan, Zach Zanek stressed the importance of working with the local community. “This project benefited greatly from the community’s contribution and participation, making it more sustainable and having a significant impact on health and hygiene conditions. The close partnership between the community and International Medical Corps is critical for future projects in Kunar Province and in other areas where we assist populations in improving living conditions.”

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