The dangers of dirty water, the power of a safe, clean well

Water is a foundational element of life and is vital to the wellbeing of families. 

Unfortunately for many people in our world there is never enough water; especially clean water.

Maryam never used to have access to clean water. She lives in a village on the outskirts of Herat in Afghanistan, where the only source of water used to be shallow, salty wells. The water was often contaminated and unclean because it was close to the surface and uncovered.

Drinking the dirty water made Maryam sick. She would have dysentery and vomited for days on end, and had to visit the local clinic for treatment, spending some of the little money she had.

Maryam's sickness was also bad for her four-month-old baby. Maryam became dehydrated and couldn't supply enough breast milk to feed her daughter.

"I had to feed my baby with powdered milk and sometimes with tea and sugar," says Maryam. The powdered milk had to be mixed with the dirty water, putting her child's health and development at risk.

At the clinic, the doctor recommended they stop drinking water from their shallow well – but like others in the village, Maryam's family had no alternative. Even knowing that the water was dangerous, they didn't have enough money to buy clean water or dig a deeper well. They couldn't even afford to buy fuel to boil the salty water and kill the bacteria.

Dirty water is one of the most deadly threats for children in Afghanistan. More than 40 percent of child deaths are due to diarrhoea and acute respiratory infection. Young babies are especially at risk as mothers who lack breast milk mix the dirty and contaminated water with powdered milk to provide food for their children.

In February, 2009, World Vision conducted a survey of the area to identify the biggest problems. It revealed that 25 percent of children under five in the area had diarrhoea during the time of the survey, while 45 percent of children said they had suffered from diarrhoea at some point during the two weeks prior.

So World Vision began a project which aims improve maternal, newborn and child health for nearly 200,000 people in four districts. As part of the project, World Vision has repaired 30 damaged wells in 10 villages and drilled two new 30-metre-deep wells. One of the new wells was built in Maryam's village.

"Three days ago, we stopped using salty water," says Maryam, with a smile. "Currently for drinking, cooking and washing, families use the well dug by World Vision."

Just one well in this village won't solve the shortage of clean water – but it is a start towards making life easier and healthier for people like Maryam.

"World Vision is a great organization that helps poor people and digs wells for them – if the help of such an organisation was not in the country, I don't know what would happen to the people. I hope this organisation makes at least two more wells, so all families can enjoy drinking safe water." says Nor Bibi, another woman from the village.

LEFT: Some families in this village used to walk 10 kilometres to find water, often meaning children would miss out on school; RIGHT: Dirty water is one of the deadliest threats to the health of children in Afghanistan. Photos: Narges Ghafary/World Vision