In my home country, Pakistan, the lack of access to safe drinking water is a constant problem in rural areas. However, when I came to Ukraine, I was really surprised to discover that in this country, too, some people have to cope with no drinking water for months at a time.
Ukraine has rich natural water resources, and a water supply system that is much more developed than that of Pakistan. But the water supply infrastructure has been damaged due to the ongoing conflict in the east of the country. Currently, at least 700,000 people are without access to safe drinking water in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.
“During the winter months with no water, I was so desperate that I melted snow to get drinking water for my children. I was relieved to find the wet napkins in the UNICEF kit that we received so that I could clean my children. We had not been able to bathe them for days,” said Maria, a mother of two, who had just been displaced from the city of Debaltseve.
In order to respond to the urgent need, UNICEF Ukraine, in collaboration with partners, has provided bottled water to more than 118,000 people in eastern Ukraine. Moreover, UNICEF with the support from the EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO) has provided three water purification units to Krasnohorivka town (Donetsk oblast), which will secure a continuous supply of safe drinking water to 20,000 people.
Last week I visited the cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, where I talked to many people displaced from conflict-affected locations where those remaining still do not have access to safe drinking water. In some cases, water is available, but it is not drinkable as it is mis-coloured and has a bad taste. I worry that bad water quality and lack of hygiene supplies may lead to diseases, especially among the most vulnerable – the children and women.
Safe water is fundamental human right, and we need to make sure everybody has access to it, be it in Pakistan or Ukraine. We need to do our best to ensure that this basic right is fulfilled for the children.
Noor Bakhsh is a WASH Manager for UNICEF Ukraine.