Water supply services in Afghanistan are limited and access to improved water infrastructure is among the lowest in the world. Across rural Afghanistan, 89 percent of people defecate in the open, 75 percent drink contaminated water, and 10 out of 100 children die from preventable waterborne diseases before reaching their fifth birthday.
Investments in Afghanistan’s rural water supply and sanitation infrastructure must be more effective at improving the lives of the Afghan people. Critical to this is creating opportunities for local engagement and mentoring future leaders of the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector. USAID Afghanistan Sustainable Water Supply and Sanitation (SWSS) project offers a platform to improve each by employing non-traditional approaches to address very conventional issues.
Tetra Tech implements the three-year, $51.9 million USAID-funded SWSS project. Through Tetra Tech, SWSS is expanding access to potable water supply and sanitation services in poor communities and decreasing the incidence of water-related diseases through household hygiene interventions in project-assisted communities. Beyond the provision of basic WASH services, SWSS is actively boosting community awareness around the need for water conservation and watershed protection in relation to potable water supply.
The SWSS approach is broadly broken down into the follow three areas:
- Providing technical assistance for the installation and maintenance of clean water delivery systems with communities
- Executing an extensive parallel health and hygiene education program that engages targeted beneficiaries in resolving their own water, sanitation, and hygiene challenges
- Mobilizing innovative forms of capital that expand the engagement of the small-scale private sector in providing WASH goods and services
Tetra Tech’s technical approach to SWSS restores the balance between investments in infrastructure and people. Our three-pronged strategy positions us to simultaneously deliver services in quick response to security priorities and enable communities to organize and act. By the end of the project, the SWSS team will have efficiently delivered the thousands of water systems and latrines mandated by the project.
The project is promoting hygiene through Community-led Total Sanitation wherever possible. Where this is restricted, the SWSS team will lead participatory behavior change programs focused on women and school children. The project team is facilitating improved local management by offering communities choice and opportunity to take responsibility for sustained improvement in their living environment. SWSS is providing over 60 professional staff to implement its development approach. Nearly all are Afghans with the wide range of skills needed to meet the project’s WASH objectives.
Capacity Building and Empowering Communities
No one has a larger interest in the receipt of well-built infrastructure than the beneficiary community. Building community capacity to own and be responsible for their water and sanitation infrastructure is central to the SWSS development approach to water and sanitation service expansion. Mobilizing and empowering communities is at the center of the SWSS approach for operations and maintenance of newly constructed improved water points and the expansion of household sanitation coverage and usage. The SWSS approach is based on our experience that communities can fully manage their infrastructure when provided with planning and monitoring support, and the local private sector can earn a living supporting the WASH sector if provided with capital and access to economies of scale. Responsible leadership and an entrepreneurial spirit are available in rural Afghan communities and are being leveraged to support the expansion of water and sanitation coverage.
Sanitation Demand Creation
Globally, rapid progress in expanding access to household sanitation facilities has resulted from the stimulation of demand for sanitation in households and communities. Demand for sanitation facilities is low in Afghanistan at this time. The SWSS team is creating sanitation demand among individual households targeting communities in six provinces of Afghanistan. As of January 2011, over 6,000 households have built or improved their household latrines as a result of this effort. Community-led Total Sanitation is an approach that has generated demand and exponential expansion of unsubsidized sanitation coverage in order to make communities Open Defecation Free. Where demand for services exists, Afghan households, entrepreneurs and enterprises have shown the ability to expand household use of latrines and other sanitation facilities.
Gender is a core social issue in all aspects of Afghan society, and women are the people most affected by water supply, inadequate sanitation, and low levels of hygiene. In SWSS, gender considerations are not an isolated topic requiring separate specialist input. Instead, the SWSS team has staffed the project with professionals who have demonstrated their ability to both function at all levels of Afghan society and sensitively engage women in culturally appropriate ways. To accomplish this, SWSS relies heavily on our team member Management Sciences for Health (MSH) to take full advantage of their multiyear experience supporting the work of male and female Community Health Workers and the development of Female Health Action Groups. These women’s groups are being introduced as a new official activity in the national community-based health care system. Some have started around community nutrition activities; others around birth spacing and maternal and child health. In SWSS, the entry point will be hygiene and sanitation.
Water is a highly sensitive issue in Afghanistan. Its organized allocation and use date back thousands of years. Mistakes have been made in the sector in recent years that have led to conflict over use of water—particularly groundwater. The SWSS team is committed to ensuring the conservation of water sources and to developing them into water supplies in the context of broader sustainable water resource management. The project team is introducing creative solutions that meet urgent water supply needs and establish practices that embed water supply provision into broader environmental efforts. This may be as simple as ensuring that trees are planted near water points to optimize use of spilled and drainage water or, should external funds be available, as technically complex as mapping underground water resources to initiate water source protection actions.
- 402,000 rural villages with clean water supplies for the first time
- 160,000 people using newly constructed and hygienic latrines
- 250 villages receiving training in improved household hygienic practices
- 30,000 school children participating in annual global handwashing day
- Reduced number of people receiving treatment for diarrhea in health clinics
- High level of decision-making by women to improve village hygiene and health
- Poor households saving money from reduced medical costs
- Memorandum of understanding signed for the first time with the Afghan government’s ministry of rural rehabilitation and development to receive training, material support, and local leadership of project activities
- Launch of cell phone-based, voice-recognition program for villagers to communicate operational issues to project leaders