Update on UNHCR's Water Programme

UNHCR Kabul Press Information, 16 February 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan, 16 February 2009 - As part of an effort to help vulnerable returning refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) to have access to safe drinking water during 2008, UNHCR has completed the implementation of 375 water points and 750 latrines throughout Afghanistan.

This brings the total number of water points completed across the country since the programme began in 2002 to more than 9,365, helping an estimated 1.4 million Afghans.

UNHCR's water programme aims to help the most vulnerable people have access to safe drinking water in areas of their return.

Safe drinking water is one of the most urgent needs returning refugees and other displaced people face upon their return, in addition to issues around security, land, shelter and employment opportunities.

UNHCR increased the number of water points initially planned in its water and sanitation programme in 2008, from 375 to 393, due in part to greater demands made by returnees in drought-affected areas in the north and spontaneous settlements in the eastern provinces of Ningarhar, and delivered through the cooperation with the Community Development Councils (CDCs) established under the Government's National Solidarity Programme.

A total of 120 water points (34%) were delivered through Community Development Councils, creating a sense of ownership among user communities and expediting the implementation process. Like other parts of its operation in Afghanistan, UNHCR's water programme is focused in rural areas and in provinces where there is a high, or potentially high, rate of returning refugees or IDPs.

The regional breakdown of water points implemented in 2008 was as follows: East 113; North 103 (including two solar driven pumps); Central 67; South East 50; West 60.

In recognition of the enormous challenges of return, UNHCR will continue its reintegration activities in 2009. The agency will continue to focus on water as one of its key programmes to address the difficulties of Afghan returnees.

The number and allocation of water points for this year's programme will be determined according to the countrywide needs assessment recently completed. In addition, UNHCR plans to train district mechanics and water supply scheme caretakers during the course of the year.

Last year, UNHCR assisted more than 280,000 registered Afghans to repatriate from neighbouring Pakistan (278,000) and Iran (3,000). While many returned to their places of origin, others are unable to go back to their villages as they have no land, shelter, access to safe drinking water or job opportunities.

The improvement of economic conditions in rural areas and the provision of job opportunities are critical to the sustainability of returns to Afghanistan, and their successful reintegration. Improved security conditions, long-term development projects nationwide and a better overall socio-economic outlook for the country will be key factors to make the return of displaced people to their homes sustainable.

More than 5.6 million Afghans have returned home since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001. Of these, over 4.4 million have repatriated with UNHCR assistance, mostly from Pakistan and Iran.