Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, October 22nd, 2018

Public Sanitation, Lost and Forgotten

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Public Sanitation, Lost  and Forgotten

The two following facts strike us right in the heart and make us question if a state of constant misery and poverty is not gradually turning into a "new normal" for Afghanistan. Here are the two facts: first, Afghanistan suffers from too few toilets and proper sanitary facilities for human defecation and second, it suffers from too much corruption. Yes, you read it right; cities and towns throughout Afghanistan, Kabul included, seem to need toilets more than democracy going by the horrible state of affairs as far as hygiene is concerned. Let us read some facts.

The air in the city of Kabul contains one of the highest concentrations of human waste particles and fecal matter compared to any other city in the world. This means the city's inhabitants inhale and consume untold amounts of human waste floating in city's air every day with consequences bordering a silent health calamity. The primary system used in Kabul's houses for human defecation and collection and disposal of human waste and fecal matter continues to be primitive which disregards the very basic requirements for hygiene.

What goes for a toilet for more than 80% of people in the city and other cities and towns is in fact an open pit whose fecal matter is dumped into the nearest open space upon overflowing. According to Water Aid, a British Non-Governmental organization, which monitors the state of public sanitation around the world, only 10% of the people in Afghanistan have access to toilet. In cities and towns throughout our country, the figure is around 15%. This means out of every 100 families in Kabul or other large cities, only 15 families have a toilet for proper defecation inside the premises of their homes.

The fact is that even the majority of these so-called toilets lack proper water and sewage systems for maintaining a minimum of hygienic conditions. Next time you read that the life expectancy rate in Afghanistan is no more than 48 or 49 it should not be surprising given the state of our toilets which is in reality a disaster. While the figure of those having access to proper toilet for Afghanistan is merely 10%, the global average is over 60%. Even the poor countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa fare much better than Kabul at 45%. This should otherwise be a shame for a country whose first 5-year development plan was introduced and implemented more than 3 decades ago.

This is a problem faced by urban dwellers in the country than has attracted very little international attention. There should be a large-scale drive to equip every house in Afghanistan's cities, towns and urban areas with a minimum of latrines, toilets and sanitation system by converting the existing open defecation pits into septic tanks and sewage systems. The problem in the way, of course, is not money. There is enough money in the world and in the coffers of donors who have been assisting Afghanistan to finance such a large-scale latrine up-gradation and construction program. The problem is that nobody neither in the government nor the thousands of international NGOs scattered throughout the country cares about such a pressing need of Afghan messes. Even the people themselves have long come to accept it as another "new normal" in their scrape-through existence.

In Afghanistan, lack of sanitation is not limited to the lack of proper latrines and toilets as discussed. Lack of access to clean, potable drinking water is another major contributor to the death of unknown numbers of children, mothers and fathers especially in the villages and rural areas where open water streams are the only source of water.

In our country, to be sure, lack of sanitation kills more of our fellow Afghans than the ongoing wars and armed conflicts. Lack of clean drinking water kills more people than does the explosions and firings carried out by the two sides of the ongoing war. Similarly, for example In Kabul, lack of sanitation and clean drinking water kills more people than the Taliban's suicide bombings and explosions. Now in 2011 and after ten years of sustained campaigns by the government and international organizations, the number of children and adults that fall victim to water-borne diseases reaches 300,000 according to UN agencies. Diarrhea, cholera, typhoid and other easily preventable diseases account for most of the fatalities.

The year 2011 should otherwise be a year of introspection and some self-evaluation for both the government of Afghanistan and the international community present in the country. Are the goals and objectives that the government and the international community harbor in the country in line with the actual efforts and financial spending? Has the spending of more than 30 billion dollars in aid and development programs in the country over the past one decade brought the desired results or the bulk of the funds have been lost to corruption and bureaucracy? Perhaps, the poor status of sanitation in the cities and towns of Afghanistan is a fairly well representation of how effective these funds have been spent.

In the absence of truly representative government that is empowered enough to implement ambitious, large-scale programs of social and economic welfare, the prevailing mix of neo-liberal-drug-Mafia social order cannot adequately respond to the desperate needs of teeming millions. The situation finds a greater sense of urgency when placed against the backdrop of recent political developments in the country. With the deadline of 2014 approaching, already there are signs that the generous international support Afghanistan has come to enjoy, is already showing signs of weakening and tapering off.

In the bifurcated economy of our country, the two classes of elites versus the common men are easily discernable. While the elites, owing to their political or bureaucratic attachments, have gained fame and wealth over the years, the common men have continued to languish in poverty and misery detached from the hyper world of the country's elites. So what seems so obvious to the inquiring eyes is that the country as a whole is in need of course correction. The bloated NGO industry in Afghanistan and a poorly-funded government no longer can be alternatives to genuine social and economic empowerment that would lift millions off the ground of misery and destitution.

The author is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at outlook afghanistan@gmail.com

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