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Why access to improved sanitation is so important for Afghanistan?

in Afghan Business

Why access to improved sanitation is so important for Afghanistan?

By: Eng. Fahim Malekzai

Sanitation refers to the provision of facilities and services for the safe disposal of the human feces, urine and provision of clean drinking water. Sanitation system consists of five modules including containment, emptying, transport, treatment and reuse/ disposal. These are the measures which are taken to improve the health and well-being of people individually as well as collectively. Inadequate sanitation is a major cause of the diseases worldwide and improving sanitation has a significant beneficial impact on health both in households and across communities. Adequate sanitation, together with good hygiene and safe water, are fundamental to good health and to social and economic development. This includes using clean and safe toilets, keeping water sources clean and disposing of garbage safely. Sanitation is the subject which affects the health and well-being of the population, food production and the environment. Sanitation plays an important role in protecting the environment and promoting sustainability.

Inadequate sanitation, particularly in the context of urbanization, allows sewage or waste to flow directly into streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands, affecting clean sources of drinking water, fouling the environment and exposing a major part of population to a number of diseases.  Good sanitation and waste management help to keep people separate from potential sources of pathogens. They reduce the risk of contaminating water supplies with pathogens and discourage the transmission of disease.

We can divide sanitation into two categories namely urban sanitation and rural sanitation. Both types need to be addressed properly. People living in rural areas usually do not have access to improved sanitation, no modern flush systems, no proper hand washing practices observed. Open defecation is very common in rural areas which frequently cause spread of infectious diseases, a major source of clean drinking water contamination and a breeding ground for vectors. The types of latrines used are pit latrines with open doors and no hygienic measures.  These people are largely illiterate, unaware of hygienic principles. There is also no proper management of solid waste although its production in rural areas is less. Similarly, when we consider the urban sanitation system, it needs much more attention, an effective management and greater resources to bring it into streamline. There is modern toilet facilities used but the waste water generated needs to be managed effectively. The wastewater generated includes residential, Commercial, Industrial, Institutional, Combine–Residential & Commercial, Health Facility’s, Wastewater generated from Slaughtering Houses, Wastewater from Mosques and any other wastewater such as from Public Latrine, Bakeries, Parks and so on. The open defecation is less in cities. Solid waste dumped around in the open environment which needs proper management.

A proper Sanitation system also effectively covers solid waste management.  An effective management of solid garbage keeps the streets, roads, avenues and environment, clean and odor free. With rapid growth of population everywhere around the city heaps of solid dumped illegally in the open places can be seen. There is no effective solid waste management, treatment and safe disposal system in Afghanistan. This situation needs to be addressed properly in order to avoid or even minimize the consequences of a polluted environment.  Solid waste is generated and collected from different areas, sources and is of different types. It includes waste collected from residential areas, commercial markets, grocery shops, waste collected from educational institutions. Solid waste from health care facilities needs special management as it is considered in nature as infectious.

Afghanistan has not that much good sanitation and hygiene conditions. In Afghanistan about 20.6 % of total deaths are attributable to worsened conditions of drinking water, hygiene and sanitation related causes (WHO 2004). There are no certain permanent faecal sludge disposal facilities available to the citizens of Afghanistan. According to these fact and figures especially in rural areas of Afghanistan people still go for open defecation. According to a UNICEF/WHO joint monitoring program (JMP) for water supply, sanitation and hygiene report a survey conducted on sanitation in year 2015 indicates that still Afghanistan lacks much behind the other countries in sanitation sector. Afghans (6 out of every 7 persons) still lives under poor hygienic circumstances. According to the modified definition of Sanitation from ALCS only 39 percent of households have access to improved sanitation facilities in Afghanistan which is a very critical condition.

The sanitation conditions of Afghanistan’s major cities are by any means not satisfactory. The large cities of Afghanistan including Kabul being the capital city, Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar, Nangarhar and Herat have no sewerage systems for wastewater, no up to mark canalization which could handle the daily flow of wastewater. In addition to all this, there are no wastewater or faecal sludge treatment plants. So all this wastewater from various sources flow directly to the open environment and cause multiple environmental and health hazards. Let’s take the example of Kabul city, where the population is increasing day by day. The sanitation condition is very alarming. There is a lack of proper disposal of the faecal sludge. There is no proper sewer system to carry the wastewater away, dispose it in a safe way at a regular disposal facility. Similarly, it also lacks proper human excreta treatment system. This all has led to a very alarming condition of sanitation and hygiene. The trucks carrying the faecal sludge from the septic tanks, pit latrines and other possible sites discharge it illegally either with in the city or unfortunately into the Kabul River. This has led to the environmental pollution, underground water pollution and spread of different diseases.

Consequences of poor sanitation: If sanitation is not taken care of such as proper toilet facilities, safe habits of human excreta disposal, proper sewerage techniques, proper solid waste management, waste is disposed of in the streets creating a foul smell and terrible living conditions for inhabitants. Most people have limited knowledge and understanding of the good hygienic practices which could reduce the health risks from poor sanitation, hygiene and waste management. Urban areas are characterized by poor sanitation conditions, indiscriminate dumping of wastes and non-availability of adequate toilet facilities. Thus as a result of poor sanitation the untreated human waste find its way into rivers, polluting the water and posing a health risk to those depending on this water for bathing and cleaning purposes. Many human infections are spread through contact with human excreta. Bacteria, viruses, protozoa and parasitic worms cause many diseases that are spread by direct contact with faeces or indirectly via contaminated food and soil. Similarly, unimproved management of solid waste also results in spread of infectious diseases and pathogenic microorganisms. In rural areas people are more vulnerable to infectious diseases because of wide spread open defecation, unhygienic habits and non-existence of standards latrines. The diseases caused put an extra burden on common people in terms of treatments, visiting hospitals and paying fee of doctors and medicines. This put further pressure on government, government health care facilities and constrains the financial resources.

Talking of solutions what should be done to change the current situation of poor sanitation in our country particularly in large cities. First of all government must pay serious attention to sanitation sector. Private sector can be included to aid government in improvement of sanitation. With the sanitation fee presently being taken from households and other various sources an effective and reliable policy should be established. For an effective waste management our policy should be based on three types of future plans. First of all local short term sanitation improvement program be started. Onsite sanitation facilities must be improved, modern latrines systems should be employed, unhygienic practices should be discouraged. Awareness campaign regarding home sanitation, hygienic principles should be carried out. Secondly there should be a focus on construction of Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Systems (DEWATS). These can be constructed for commercial buildings, apartments, government institutions, educational institutions and for residential colonies. In the third phase the long term plan should be to build facilities such as centralized waste water and faecal sludge treatment plants. Planned and engineered sewerage and canalization system for water drainage must be built in the city linked to treatment plants. In case of solid waste management, it also requires planned practical work. The current condition of Kabul city in this regard is awful. There is no solution to this problem has been found by the Municipality. This problem should also be addressed on emergency basis to keep the city clean. Effective management is the key to the solution of this problem. Apart from other strategies to address solid waste management, solid waste segregation at source point can be carried out. The waste can be segregated into biodegradable, non-biodegradable and recyclable and non-recyclable wastes. Many of the solid waste thrown out can be effectively recycled. This reduces the volume, generates revenue and become a source of job creation. It requires less energy, money and efforts to recycle a waste than to make it again. The biodegradable waste can be used for biogas generation, composting to make manure etc.  in rural areas human waste along with solid biodegradable waste after co-composting is an effective type of manure used in farms for better crop production. Similarly human waste along with cow dung is a good source of energy production in the form of biogas which is cheap, efficient and free of cost.

About author:

Eng. Fahim Malekzai has done Civil Engineering from University of Salam, Kabul Afghanistan. Currently, he is the head of the Fecal sludge Treatment Plant Project, Ministry of Urban Development and Housing. He has worked as a Project Engineer in BORDA (Bremen Overseas Research and Development Association) in Kabul, Afghanistan and has gained 13 years general worked experience, from various national and international organizations and 8 years specific experience in the field of sanitation.

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