Sanitation, Kabul’s Mountain of a Problem
Written by Abdul Ahad Poya, edited by Mohammad J. Alizada and Brian J. Conley
“When it rains we take the water, and wash the fecal matter down the slope, which creates a huge annoyance for people, but if we had proper sewage system, this wouldn’t happen,” this is a part of 37 year-old Jalal Khan Noori’s comments who lives on TV mountain in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul. The city is home to around 5 million people.
Proper sewage has been an issue for all of Kabul for many years, but it is clearly evident in the Joy-e Sheer neighborhood when it rains. As it rains, a flood of fecal matter from people’s outhouses flows down the mountain slope with rain water, releasing a terrible odor throughout the area.
In other parts of the world, homes with higher elevation may cost more money, but here in Afghanistan, especially the city of Kabul, dwellers who have no other option, live on mountain slopes like this with no access to the water or proper sewage systems that make up the basics of city life.
Originally from eastern Laghman province, Mr. Noori relocated to Kabul in hopes of finding work and resettled on TV mountain. Today Jalal is still unemployed and is having a difficult time taking care of a family of 7.
“The stench has been there since we got here, we direct the matter downstream in rain because we have no other choice, I know it’s not good for the public, including ourselves but what can we do?,” Jalal, who has built a small shed out of the rocks from the mountain, tells Alive in Afghanistan.
Jalal’s request from the government is to construct pipelines to transport the blackwater in the neighborhood.
Although millions of dollars were spent by the Kabul municipality and other agencies for reconstruction within the last two decades, the city still lacks a proper sewage system. Residents of the city battle a host of challenges, including the blockade of sewage canals and the flow of human feces onto roads in the rainy seasons, which can cause a variety of illnesses.
Mawlawi Habib-ur Rahman Haqqani, another resident of the TV mountain who has lived here for the past decade says the biggest issue for the families living here is the lack of a proper sewage system.
According to Mr. Haqqani, those with the means to pay have their outhouses emptied while those without financial means must wait for the rains.
“When it rains hard, people shovel the matter into the ditches dug in between the alleyways that carry it downstream,” Habib said, adding that the city’s municipality must solve this issue.
Noor Faqir Halimi who has lived on this mountain for nearly 8 years says, “People are poor and do not have the money to pay for emptying their outhouses, releasing the fecal matter into the open is bad for the health of residents and children living in this neighborhood.”
Financial inability is not the sole problem here, most homes do not have access to a drivable road, which makes it impossible for any truck to come and empty the residents’ outhouses. When the rain stops, the matter that has not been washed down the mountain remains in the alleyways, drying there and polluting the air.
The stench of the neighborhood is even more nauseating for visitors. Samira Jabbari, who has come to the neighborhood to visit her sick aunt, covers her nose with a handkerchief as she climbs through the steps. Her eyes are wet from feeling nauseous and she is unable to keep her mouth closed.
“The trek up the mountain makes you want to breathe harder and the stench as you breathe makes you want to throw up, I regret coming here,” Samira says.
Most homes on this mountain and in other areas like this are built by force, there is no city plan here and the municipality has no resources for the people who choose to live on the mountain.
In 2017, the Kabul municipality painted around 2,000 houses on the side of the mountain in order to improve the image of the city but did nothing to combat the core issues of the neighborhood.
Mohammad Naeem Ehsas and Nawroz Ali, residents of TV mountain, say the fecal matter is clearly evident on the alleyways when they walk through the neighborhood every day. According to them, open air sewage creates a lot of issues for the dwellers of this neighborhood who have to live with the horrible smell every day.
This problem is not just in the TV Mountain area, this issue extends to several city neighborhoods including the residential area on the Waisal Abad mountain, Khawja Bughra hill, and the hilltops near Panjsad Family and Kotal-e Khairkhana.
Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency in October 2017 said that 70 percent of Kabul city’s underground water is contaminated with chemicals and bacteria, including particles of fecal matter, which makes it very unsanitary for residents to drink.
The agency said if the government does not pay attention to the issue, Kabul residents might face a serious shortage of sanitary drinking water.