The second Global Handwashing Day was celebrated on 15 October 2009 in Kabul and 34 provinces of Afghanistan.
“At home, I wash my hands every morning and noon and evening, and also when I come from the toilet,” said 11-year-old Abdullah Farzad.
Afghanistan’s mortality rates are among the highest in the world. One out of four children dies before her or his fifth birthday. High diarrhoea prevalence resulting from poor hygiene practices, lack of access to sanitation facilities and clean water impact heavily on children’s survival and development. According to a joint UNICEF/WHO report released this week, more than 80,000 children under five died as a result of diarrhoea in Afghanistan in 2007.
“When I started to go to school one year ago, one of the first things our teacher explained to us was the importance of washing the hands before eating,” said Abdullah. “Since then, I have explained this to my mother. In the beginning she was skeptical, but when I told her about the examples that we heard at school – from babies who get sick and die – she started to change.”
Promoting a life-saving intervention
The village of Sohol, Afghanistan is enclaved within mountains. Its residents have no running water and access to safe water and sanitation supplies has been difficult for many.
Despite its life-saving potential, hand-washing with soap is seldom practiced in Afghanistan and not always easy to promote. About 22 per cent of households have access to safe water and less than one out of 10 families has access to latrine facilities.
“We have a water-point in Sohol, our village. Usually it is my sister who goes to fetch the water in the morning and the evening, but sometimes I have to help her. It takes about ten minutes from our house to the water-point,” said Abdullah.
Although people may be aware that water alone is not enough, many families still do not want to invest in buying soap.
“In the past many parents said that it is too expensive to buy soap. Last year, community animators came and made clear to them how much this little investment can do, to ensure the health of their families.” said teacher Mohammad Abdullah.
“It was not easy to make them change their mind, because in a remote place like Sohol it is not always simple to have water and soap at hand when you should have it.”
The ‘Healthy School Initiative’
As a follow-up to the 2008 International Year of Sanitation, UNICEF has initiated clean village projects promoting sustainable behaviour changes on key hygiene practices among families.
The ‘healthy schools’ initiative – which includes the construction of separate toilets for girls and boys, safe drinking water systems and the training of teachers on effective hygiene promotion – is also being implemented.
To date, 1,000 schools with a total of about 320,000 students benefit directly from this intervention.
Abdullah’s school is also one out of 126 schools chosen across 11 provinces for a pilot project of the World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF, where water and sanitation facilities are combined with a hot meal.
Water-points, toilets and hygiene education are taken care of by UNICEF, while WFP is providing food commodities and kitchen equipment.
It is estimated that more than 70,000 school children participated in this year’s Global Handwashing Day in Afghanistan. In spite of continued conflict, they celebrated together with millions of other children across five continents.
Source: Cornelia Walther, UNICEF, 16 Oct 2009