Afghanistan: Drops of Change – How access to safe water is making a difference in women’s life.
“I remember the day I opened the tap in my garden […]. From that day on, I no longer had to beg my neighbour for water or worry about how to ration water for my family. That mental pressure was suddenly gone.”
Twenty-four-year-old Maryam and her 13 years old sister-in-law Wajhma, live in a rural village of Kabul province. The village seems quiet and peaceful, with everyone minding their own business and families maintaining their privacy behind high walls and colourful metal doors.
But life in the village was not always so peaceful for the two sisters-in-law. Every day, they faced the unpleasant task of collecting water for their family. In Afghanistan, the daily struggle for clean water is a harsh reality for millions of people. The majority of households do not have access to their own water source, and the struggle for this precious resource has become a burden that affects every aspect of life.
Maryam is a widow with a two-year-old son. She also cares for her mother-in-law, whose health is deteriorating. At least five times a day, Maryam used to walk to the village mosque to fetch water from the well. On laundry days, Maryam had to make the 30-minute walk up to 10 times because she could only carry two jerrycans at a time.
“I spent many hours every day collecting water for my family. While I was busy with this task, I could not take care of my child or my mother-in-law. In addition, it delayed so many household chores that I had to do. It was quite exhausting for me– physically and mentally,” says Maryam when asked about her daily routine.
In rural areas 31% of households lack access to drinking water
Collecting water can take up to a full day- with or without donkey carts or other means of transportation – and puts women and children at particular risk.
In rural areas, access to adequate water is even worse, with 31% of households lacking access to portable water. In addition, Afghanistan is experiencing a multi-year drought that is causing surface water sources such as springs to dry up and groundwater levels to drop significantly, putting even more pressure on available water sources.
Wajhma is well aware of the potential for conflict over water. Like her sister-in-law, she relies on public water sources or her neighbour’s well. Several times a day, Wajhma relied on her neighbour’s goodwill to provide her family with the day’s ration of water. But like many other villagers, he fears that his well will run dry due to the ongoing drought in Afghanistan. Wajhma had no choice but to endure the verbal abuse and humiliation of her angry neighbour day after day.
“Like my sister, I don’t have my own borehole or tap water. In order to meet our daily water needs, I was forced to ask our neighbour to allow me to use his well. He was not happy about this situation and shouted at me when I came to fetch water. He told us to find our own source of water so that his borehole would not dry up,” says Wajhma.
Since May 2023, Wajhma and Maryam’s homes have been connected to a newly built water pipeline system. The pipes provide them with safe, running water whenever they open the taps in their yard.
“I remember the day I opened the tap in my garden. I filled my glass twice and tasted the fresh water. It was cold and delicious. That moment was a great relief for me. From that day on, I no longer had to beg my neighbour for water or worry about how to ration water for my family.
That mental pressure was suddenly gone. I had a sense of ownership and independence – I had my own source of water,” says Wajhma in a powerful voice.
Maryam tells a similar story of relief and joy when her home was connected to the water system. Finally, she had more time to take care of her mother, her child, and the household. She could feel the enormous pressure suddenly ease. But much more has changed for Maryam. In addition to her own water source, her home now has a new, easily accessible latrine adapted for people with limited mobility.
“My mother-in-law can’t walk without help. Our old latrine had stairs and a squat toilet. We always had to help her when she needed to relieve herself. Especially when she was defecating. These were very embarrassing moments for her. Sometimes she refused to eat and drink so as not to be a burden to me. I felt so sorry for her,” says Maryam.
With funding from the Centre of Crisis and Support of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Première Urgence Internationale provided safe and running water to 1,055 households (7,358 people) in three districts of Kabul province: Bagrami, Shakardara, and Mir Bacha Kot. Tothis end, three boreholes were drilled and equipped with new solar-powered pumping stations. 15,412 kilometres of newly laid water pipes and 724 installed water taps connect the water sources to households. Première Urgence Internationale also built accessible latrines for families with members with special needs and limited mobility.
 Registered as Première Urgence – Aide Médicale Internationale (PU-AMI) in Afghanistan