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Health Ministry Working to Purify Thousands of Wells in Afghanistan - 2003-08-13

The Afghan Ministry of Health has begun chemically treating thousands of shallow wells in the capital Kabul. This campaign aims to reduce the incidence of water-borne diseases, such as diarrhea, which are a major killer of children.

The United Nations Children's Fund says an estimated 7,800 cases of diarrheal disease are reported in Kabul every week, caused mainly by drinking contaminated water.

It says at least half of these cases affect children under five. UNICEF notes diarrheal disease accounts for more than 50 percent of all child deaths in Afghanistan.

UNICEF Spokesman, Damien Personnaz, said fewer children will die from diarrhea once Kabul's wells are chlorinated, making the water safe to drink. "Chlorination is actually a very simple process. It is also very cheap and it just involves the mixing of chlorine powder with sand. And, it just kills the bacteria and actually the water is pretty safe to drink," Mr. Personnaz said.

Mr. Personnaz says it takes two to three minutes to chlorinate one well at a cost of $2.50.

He says teams of chlorinators will treat more than 17,000 shallow wells and all 20 water reservoirs during the next three months in Kabul. He says all the districts in the capital will be covered, benefiting the city's 2.5 million people.

Mr. Personnaz said Kabul's population has doubled during the past year. And, this is putting great strain on the city's safe water supply. He also notes the hot summer months tend to be the riskiest time of year.

"The people also rely on very shallow wells very close to their households and where they have also put their latrines. And, the contamination of safe water is a major problem. We have noticed also with the drought season, people have moved from the countryside into Kabul which also has the incidents of increasing water-borne diseases," he said.

Another important part of the chlorination campaign is to educate people on good hygiene practices. Mr. Personnaz said aid workers will try to raise awareness of the causes of water-borne diseases and the ways to prevent them.