News - April 20, 2011

Water for Afghanistan

Water is scarce in the slums of Kabul. VHL student Zia Karimi (26) in Leeuwarden wants to do something about that through the Water for Tomorrow project. Wageningen UR is supporting his efforts.

He is already getting emails and phone calls from Kabul. 'Everyone is waiting for a helping hand from someone who can provide drinking water', explains Zia Karimi, third year student of biotechnology at Van Hall Larenstein, in his third-floor flat in Leeuwarden. 'Especially now that summer is coming.' Drinking water is scarce in the slums of the Afghan capital Kabul, as Zia well knows. 'There are many refugees living there. They have no water, no electricity, no services. The lack of drinking water causes high infant mortality.' In the past, residents in the wealthier suburbs of the city have shared their water with their poorer neighbours. 'But when demand increased enormously and there were queues outside their doors, they didn't want to do that anymore' says Zia.
'Refugees in the slums now tap illegal water from underground pipes.' He saw this with his own eyes five months ago when he was back in Kabul, where his grandparents live. 'It is dry everywhere. And it gets drier and drier in Afghanistan. In the last two years the ground water level in Kabul has dropped by two metres.'
Zia, who is studying biology and has been in the Netherlands since 2002, wanted to tackle the drinking water problem. 'By doing so I can do something good for the world and give people hope for a better future.'

Map by Isric
At the end of last year, Zia got in touch with the Farda Foundation in Buitenpost, which wanted to improved health care in Afghanistan. He outlined his plan to his Van Hall teachers Leo Groendijk (Environmental Science) and Leo Bentvelzen (Life Science). The idea was to sink a well with a nano filtration system (which purifies water using membrane technology), combined with a training programme for local people. Groendijk runs a foundation called WaterforEveryone, through which he conducts water purification projects in Haiti and other places. Zia is involved in this work. 'He helps me write the training programme and with technical knowledge.'
Zia went to Afghanistan last winter for preliminary research and spoke to a spokesman from the ministry of water and electricity. 'I was able to do that project as a minor module on Sustainable Water Technology.' The idea is to sink a well about 100 metres deep in district 15, the suburb allocated by the government. 'About 30,000 people will be able to get clean drinking water from the well.' Marthijn Sonneveld and Ad van Oostrum of World Soil Information Isric, at Wageningen UR, gave Zia access to a geological map of the area. 'On that you can see what soil layers the ground is made up of. That is important for predicting the quality of the water.'
A readymade container with nano filtration using UV rays for disinfection will be installed. When? 'That depends on the donors', says Zia. 'The costs, including transport, training and monitoring, come to almost 40,000 euros. I am going to approach funds and companies. For drilling companies in particular there are fantastic opportunities for investment in Afghanistan. If a company of that sort co-finances us, I will be willing to open an office for them in Kabul.'
Karin de Mik