Feature N° 205
FORTY LITRES OF WATER A DAY
FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN
Forty litres of water a day. New Jallozai refugee camp – makeshift tents on a burning plain – may lack many things, but for the new arrivals from the desiccated north of Afghanistan, running from their third year of drought, the 40 litres of water per person per day* is luxury beyond imagining.
An old woman lifts her hands and blows the imaginary dust from them to describe the state of her land back in Faryab province. Her livestock died, her family ate the seed they would need to plant if, by God’s will, the rains come this winter, and sold everything worth anything to buy food, and in the end they left, crossing the mountains of Afghanistan to come to the steaming hot lowlands outside Peshawar in Pakistan.
Since last year some 150,000 people have fled the combination of drought and violent conflict into Pakistan. In Peshawar, they have joined over a million ‘old’ refugees – many of whom have been here for 20 years and now live in what have become normal villages, with thriving bazaars, business and even a payment system for water and electricity.
With its kilometres of makeshift tents, clustered cheek by jowl to each other and to latrines, open to the dust devils and not a shade tree in sight, New Jallozai is far from this normality. But with hand pumps, shallow wells, and trucked water, the construction of almost 1000 latrines (though still only half the number recommended*) and operation of three basic health units which offer services from antenatal care to supplementary feeding, the situation has improved.
Nevertheless, say health workers at the camp, many children suffer from skin diseases that thrive in the dusty, humid environment. Used to the cooler dry climate of mountainous Afghanistan, both children and adults also suffer from heat rash which can be eased by frequent washing with cool water. But although there is now plenty of water, there is no place but latrines where men or women can completely disrobe and wash properly. Good community health education and workers to propagate it are essential to help people adjust to the new climate and conditions.
According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, over 1350 people have arrived in New Jallozai over the past two weeks, driven mostly by drought, but also by outbreaks of fighting. But not all in the camp are genuine new arrivals. Some are long-term residents from other camps who have come to take advantage of the distribution of aid to which the old refugees are no longer entitled. UNHCR is currently carrying out a registration exercise to identify which are which, and who will be offered permanent asylum in New Shamshatoo, a village being constructed about 10 kilometres away and one which will offer very different conditions to Jallozai – mudbrick house, piped water, electricity and a large number of male and female schools. There are also five basic health centres run by a combination of Pakistani health ministry staff and NGOs, supported by UNHCR and agencies such as WHO and UNICEF.
But the ideal is to try and avert displacement from Afghanistan altogether, and together with other UN agencies and NGOs, WHO is working to raise funds for projects which will help to people stay in their place of origin, or to return to it if it is safe for them to do so. In health this includes reactivating and supplying basic health centres that have fallen into disuse because of lack of drugs, poor equipment and lack of knowledge and remuneration of staff to ensure access to basic health care. WHO also hopes to pre-position drug supplies to allow quick response to epidemics, help with water quality monitoring, and support intensified health education campaigns.
"Though a functioning health centre alone will not keep people in a village or be the main reason why they return, it is an essential part of the jigsaw of social and economic support needed to avert displacement and encourage return," says Dr Said Salah Youssef, WHO representative to Afghanistan. "If a family member is sick, the pull of health services in both the larger towns in Afghanistan and over the border in Pakistan can tip the balance between staying and going."
* SPHERE minimum standards in disaster response state at least 15 litres of water per person per day should be available with at least 1 water point per 250 people. The maximum distance from any shelter to the nearest water point should be 500 metres. There should be at least one latrine for every 20 people.
The Sphere Project is a programme of the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR) and InterAction with VOICE, ICRC and ICVA which has developed a set of universal minimum standards in core areas of humanitarian assistance in order to improve the quality of assistance and enhance the accountability of the humanitarian system in disaster response.
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This document was researched and written by Hilary Bower, Information Officer for WHO Emergency and Humanitarian Action Department, Geneva, currently on mission in Afghanistan. The content does not necessarily reflect official WHO views or policies. For further information, please contact email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
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