The problem

From recurring droughts to a surge in waterborne diseases, in Afghanistan, the climate crisis is being experienced as a water crisis. The impacts of decades of conflict, instability and now rapidly changing weather patterns mean that water scarcity is becoming one of the most pressing challenges for ordinary Afghans. It weakens people's ability to grow enough food, causes illnesses such as cholera, and drives families from their homes as their villages are left dry and barren. 

And the burdens of a lack of water fall heaviest on women and girls. In 2024, Afghanistan has been named the worst place in the world to be a woman: from limitations on their movement, access to education and employment, the basic freedoms of the female population continue to be eroded. 

Through all of this, a lack of clean water, sanitation and irrigation infrastructure is an often overlooked, but also deeply pressing issue for the female population, threatening to make the situation for women and girls worse still.

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Why are women and girls more affected by scarce water and poor sanitation? 

Just 42 percent of Afghans have access to safe drinking water, and only 27 percent of the rural population have access to sanitation facilities. Water scarcity and improper infrastructure presents significant obstacles for Afghan women and girls to live with dignity, exercise their freedoms and dream of bright, hopeful futures. Why?

  • It forces them to take unsafe, time-consuming journeys: Women and girls in Afghanistan are usually tasked with fetching water for their families - spending an average of 17 minutes (around 1 mile) walking each time they need to fetch water, which is often still contaminated. This everyday chore robs them of precious hours for learning or pursuing livelihoods, and in rural areas the often perilous journeys through isolated terrain to gather water leaves many women and girls unsafe.

  • It impedes access to education: Increasing instances of illness in children due to dirty water, as well as the undignified and unsafe conditions created by a lack of proper toilet facilities in schools, means that many young girls in Afghanistan miss out on even the most basic education. In a country where girls are only allowed to attend formal education until 6th grade, it has never been more important to improve access to education within these limited years they are able to attend.

  • It makes rearing livestock and growing food much harder: Due to lack of fodder caused by droughts and little drinking water for their animals, Afghan women, who typically take the lead in caring for livestock in their homes, have to travel farther, work harder, and face more risks for their animals to graze and drink. For many, this has meant they have lost food and income due to animal death, deepening cycles of poverty.

  • It increases women and girl’s vulnerability in crises: In instances of natural disasters or economic collapse, water and sanitation access is often diminished, either because it is damaged, inaccessible, or becomes unaffordable. This creates even more difficult situations for women and girls, as it further exacerbates water and sanitation related challenges. For instance, as a result of the Herat earthquakes that struck in October 2023, damage to latrines was reported in 41 girls' schools.

The solution

By supporting Afghan women and girls to improve their access to clean water, women and girls can stay safe, reclaim valuable time, and unleash their potential. We work with a community-led approach to ensure the most pressing WASH needs of any area are met.

From the distribution of water filters to the construction of entire water supply networks that extend taps to every household, we alleviate the burden of women and girls having to undertake arduous journeys to collect clean water whilst improving the health of families. By conducting hygiene training, including gender-conscious sessions, we work with communities to promote and implement improved hygiene practices within rural villages. Through the installation of toilet blocks, hand washing stations and formation of school-based WASH committees within girls' primary schools, we help to decrease drop-out rates, improve health and invest in girls’ futures. From distributing emergency hygiene packs to undertaking urgent repair work on irrigation, water storage and other WASH infrastructure, we ensure that when crises hit or families are forced to leave their homes, their water and hygiene needs can still be met.

These important activities serve as the first step toward creating transformative ripples of change, reverberating throughout their communities for years to come. Make a donation today so support this vital work:

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The impact

In one remote district in the central highlands, we’ve recently worked in 12 girls' primary schools to construct and repair 67 latrines, and install permanent handwashing stations. 360 households in the area have also benefited from new pipe schemes and water reservoir construction, bringing clean drinking water to households particularly vulnerable to water scarcity. 

"Without toilets it was very shameful for us. Now it is so much better, we have a safe place. This will really encourage more girls to come to school."

Gulrukh, a primary school student

The impact has been immediately felt by the community members: “Usually there would be ten new registrations for the next school year,” an Afghanaid social organiser who has worked with the communities in the area for more than a decade, explained to us. “For the next year there are 23 and they are mostly girls. Before, only six villages sent their girls to the primary school. Now eight have agreed.”

Read More About How Clean Water and Sanitation Is Unlocking Potential

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