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A Silver Lining in Northeastern Afghanistan

Afghanistan, December 24, 2003

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    Mercy Corps built wells have increased access to potable water in 440 communities in northeastern Afghanistan. Photo: Mercy Corps Afghanistan Photo:

A Mercy Corps project that got off to a disappointing start in Kunduz Province finished with remarkable results.

The project, funded by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO), was undertaken in 200 villages with heavy concentrations of returnees and that were located along the former front-line of the war between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. The objectives were to increase access to potable water, improve hygiene behaviors and practices and increase food and livelihood security through rural rehabilitation and water projects.

One of the project's activities was to drill 50 deep tube wells. Though expensive, the wells were needed in areas where potable water was too far underground to be reached by other means. An exhaustive search for drilling contractors from as far away as Kabul bore no results. Mercy Corps reluctantly abandoned the activity.

It was not an easy decision. The communities targeted for the deep tube wells truly needed them. Still, without the proper drilling equipment, there was nothing Mercy Corps could do.

Determined to find a silver lining, Mercy Corps worked to get the project back on track and the results exceeded all expectations. By the time the project finished, more than 69,000 people in 440 communities had potable water thanks to the additional shallow wells Mercy Corps was able to dig. Community members now are more knowledgeable about safe/unsafe drinking water, environmental sanitation, personal hygiene, safe food handling/preparation and diarrhea and its causes as a result of hygiene education sessions. Mercy Corps also taught special hygiene education classes to students in ten schools.

In each of the four districts where the wells were dug, there is a hand pump mechanic. These individuals are knowledgeable about the technical aspects of well digging, hand pump installation and maintenance. They have their own set of tools and a bicycle to enable them to repair and maintain the wells in exchange for 28 kilograms of wheat per year, paid by well user groups.

Mercy Corps exceeded the targets for its food and livelihood security activities as well. Instead of 6,200 workers, we employed 10,114 workers who provided labor to fix 62.5 kilometers of roads, build 141 culverts and 62 kilometers of canals. More than 30,000 families in five districts enjoy improved market access and irrigation and the workers themselves earned a combined total of $283,718 – valuable income that would not have been available otherwise. Of course, all of this would not have been possible without the dedicated participation of the communities themselves, who contributed services and inputs valued at nearly $100,000.

Post-project evaluations indicate that program beneficiaries value the improvements the project made to their communities and to the quality of life of their families. By working together, Mercy Corps and tens of thousands of community members in Kunduz found the silver lining they were looking for.