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AFGHANISTAN: In Kabul, Nature’s Call Does Not Get Answered in Toilets

Nooria Ashoori*/ Pajhwok Afghan News

KABUL, May 23 2005 (IPS) - Twenty-eight year-old Jawed holding his breath behind a scarf tied around his nose at a jewellery store on the outskirts of Kabul, in Khairkhana said: ”You can judge the civilisation of a city by the state of its toilets, and unfortunately our city is deprived of them.”

But Jawad is not the only one with this lament; many Kabul citizens claim that there is nowhere to go when ‘nature calls’.

Thirty- year old Fatima a resident of Chehelstoon in Kabul who says she has to go to the river banks of Kabul River when the need arises, said: ”My little girl was so desperate, and our home is a bus journey away, so I led her to the banks where she was able to relieve herself.”

A street vendor, Qurban Ali said: ”When I want to go to the toilet, I also use the Kabul River because there is no toilet near here.”

Another Kabul resident says the drainage and sewage systems in the capital are archaic and in grave need of improvement for an ever-expanding city.

However the head of the planning department, Mohammed Ali Niaz at the Kabul Municipalty department said there are some modern toilets scattered around the capital in the Makroryan, Khairkhana and central points of Kabul.

Niaz said the city plans to build more toilets with help from the World Bank in the near future.

In three years since the collapse of Taliban rule at the end of 2001, the Afghan capital of 1.3 million people has swelled by at least another two million, many of them uneducated villagers who had fled to neighboring Pakistan years ago. Now they are surviving in primitive conditions and eking out a living on the margins of an urban community that is ill-prepared to absorb them and increasingly burdened by their presence.

The most serious threat to public health in Kabul is the lack of safe water. After years of warfare, neglect and severe regional drought, the city’s water system is so badly deteriorated that officials say they could provide safe drinking water to only 25 percent of urban homes.

Also the lack of land in the city has pushed people to settle in precarious locales. Hundreds of new houses being built illegally can be seen all over the city, the majority perched on steep hillsides. The physical location of these houses implies very poor water and sanitation services, with latrines difficult to empty.

Due to the increase in urban population the traditional night-soil collection system has broken down, too. The farmers or night-soil collectors who used to regularly empty the private latrines in Kabul are too few to keep up with the expanding population.

In addition, the greater availability of chemical fertiliser, the recent drought and decreasing arable land have meant a further decrease in overall demand for natural fertiliser. As a result many latrines are emptied far too infrequently, especially within overcrowded residential areas. Excreta overflowing from many Kabul latrines are a common sight.

Garbage collection, too, seems to be a problem in Kabul. Every 24 hours, the city’s residents produce over 800 cubic meters of solid waste.

The municipality’s 60 garbage trucks work long hours every day to pick up trash throughout the city. Each will make three trips a day to dump the waste they’ve collected at a landfill 30 kilometres outside of the city.

But Abdurramish, an 18-year-old high-school said that he hasn’t seen a garbage truck in his neighbourhood for about two months.

It’s easy to understand why. According to a recent study, the city doesn’t have enough trash- collecting vehicles, is short of money to pay staff and lacks the technical expertise to deal with the mountain of waste being generated by a population that has grown dramatically since the overthrow of the Taliban regime.

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN-Habitat, with a grant from the World Bank, recently completed an 18-month project working with city and national officials to deal with the growing problem of solid waste management.

”The Kabul Municipal Waste Department can remove 40 per cent of the daily garbage,” said engineer Nasrullah Habibi, solid waste management project manager at UN-Habitat.

The remaining 60 per cent of the rubbish accumulates on roadsides, backyards, in drains, in the river and open places, according to the study produced by the organisation. This has only added to tonnes of non-disposed waste accumulated for many years for lack of services.

U.N.-Habitat also found that the ‘Safa’i’, or cleaning, tax was not enough to cover the cost of basic waste management services.

The U.N.-Habitat project, funded to the tune of around 850,000 U.S. dollars, provided health and hygiene education to the community, and included about half a million dollars worth of maintenance costs for 40 vehicles in 13 city districts.

It also featured a pilot project testing out privatisation of garbage collection services.

But the project was deemed a failure, however, because there weren’t enough collection trucks.

“In the past we were looking for the garbage, but nowadays the garbage is looking for us,” said Gul Mohammad, the head trash collector.

(*with additional reporting by Sonny Inbaraj in Bangkok and the Institute of War Peace Reporting’s Mohammad Jawad Sharifzada and Shahabuddin Tarakhil in Kabul.)

 
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