If you think drinking dirty water results in just a bit of inconvenient tummy trouble, there’s a father in Afghanistan who would like to set the record straight.

Abdul Satar Khan knows the dangers of unsafe water because he’s seen the life-sapping consequences on his children’s health time and time again.

Abdul, who lives in the city of Kandahar, explains, ‘For several months, my children suffered from different ailments but the worst affected was my eight-month-old son who was getting worse despite us spending a lot of money on medication.


‘In despair, I admitted my son to the best hospital in town, the Mirwais Regional Hospital Children’s department, which is supported by the International Committee of Red Cross & Red Crescent Society.

‘My son’s condition was very bad and the doctors told me he was suffering from chronic diarrhoea. It took 16 days for him to recover and get discharged. The doctors advised me to avoid dirty or contaminated water. 

‘After a short while, I returned my son to the hospital for treatment again due to a relapse. The condition was worse than before. The doctors investigated and discovered that the only source of drinking water for my family, and my village, was contaminated river water.

‘Having no other option for good water, I was advised to boil the water for at least five minutes for cooking and drinking purposes. I tried to follow the doctors’ advice but found it difficult to afford the money for fuel. It was expensive, difficult and time consuming but I did it due to fear of relapse of the waterborne diseases.’

Photo: Frank Greaves/Tearfund

Now my little son and other family members are healthy and I do not need to spend money on doctors and medicines

Abdul Satar Khan, Afghan villager

Tackling disease

Tackling waterborne diseases was a priority for Tearfund when we started work in Abdul’s community. The key was introducing bio sand filters, seen above, which are a simple but effective way of removing contaminants from dirty water and producing drinkable supplies. This was backed up by teaching so residents could maintain the filters without outside help.

‘Tearfund installed the filters in our homes and provided us with a container where we could store clean water,’ said Abdul. ‘They also taught us about health and hygiene.

‘Now my little son and other family members are healthy and I do not need to spend money on doctors and medicines. I’m thankful to Tearfund for all the support they've given. My family is happy with the knowledge and resources we have gained for good health.’

Abdul’s community is one of 36 where Tearfund is working in Kandahar. It is typical of many in that the population has a large number of families returning to the area after being previously displaced. It’s also typical in having harsh conditions and few facilities.

A little history...

Tearfund has supported aid and development work in Afghanistan since 1971 and currently works in 11 provinces through six partner organisations and our operational team. 

Low-cost, community-owned programmes support more than 400,000 Afghans a year. They focus on community development, water and sanitation, disability, livelihoods, women’s health and empowerment, and reducing vulnerability to disasters. Examples include the following:

In remote Ghor Province, a Tearfund partner has helped three communities cope with natural disasters. When severe floods washed away their crops, affected communities were loaned wheelbarrows, rakes and shovels to remove silt and rocks. Three-quarters of the lost land was reclaimed and replanted. A retaining wall was built to lessen the impact  of future floods. 

More than 3,000 women are being empowered by self-help groups in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif. In small groups of 15, they are trained by a Tearfund partner in literacy, numeracy and advocacy. Money saved is loaned around group members for income-generating activities. 

Operational team sanitation programmes have brought innovative bio-sand filters to Kapisa, and Jawzian provinces. For about £6 these locally made water filters offer safe water for a family or group of families. Alongside the filters,Tearfund encourages ‘demand-led’ sanitation: communities deciding how they will meet their needs, rather than complying with externally imposed programmes.


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