Read caption A water tanker storing purified water for residents living near one of the brick factories in Dasht-e-Zahmatkeshan, Kerman, Iran. Photo: Hamid Sadeghi/NRC

The rippling effect of water purifiers

Marjan Jesmi|Published 20. Dec 2017
In south-eastern Iran, water purifiers are having more impact than what they were built for.

“Since the water purifiers have been up and running here, we don’t have to drink salty water anymore. Now we can make tea with fresh drinking water,” says 19-year-old Pari Tajik. She lives in Dasht-e-Zahmatkeshan, one of the largest informal settlements in Iran’s south-eastern Kerman province.

Tajik is among more than 3,000 Afghans residing in this area, which is a hub of 32 brick factories. Many are involved in the labour force for these factories and as a result, the population can rise up to over 4,000 during the summer season when work demand is at peak levels. Being a dry, arid landscape, 50 kilometres away from the city means access to drinkable water can be a daily struggle for residents.

Twenty of the brick factories already had water wells, although the water was very salty and at times muddy. It was unsafe to drink. After assessing the area and consulting with the community, NRC’s experts installed 22 water purifiers to improve the quality. Funded by the Australian Direct Aid Program and the European Commission’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), the water purifiers are now servicing nearly 500 families in the area.

Access to free and safe water

Before installation, residents in Dasht-e-Zahmatkeshan had to regularly pay for drinking water, buying from water tankers that came to the settlement frequently. They had to carry 20-litre barrels across long distances to the distribution points, to fill up and take back home. The quality of the water sold by these tankers was sub-standard – in fact, not much better than the water wells. Children often complained of water-borne illnesses, including stomach related problems. In the absence of public or private transportation in the area, parents frequently needed to walk the one and a half hour trek to take their sick children to the nearest hospital for medical treatment.

Read caption The water purifiers installed in 20 of the brick factories in Dasht-e-Zahmatkeshan. Photo: Hamid Sadeghi/NRC

“Thanks to the water purifiers, we don’t get sick like before,” Tajik says.

Her family lives with another 50 families around one of the kilns that has had a water purifier installed. Every few days Tajik’s brother walks the 100-metre distance to their neighbourhood kiln to collect the water they need for drinking and cooking. He takes his wheelbarrow to load two full 20-litre barrels of potable water without needing to pay anything at all.

However, there are still 12 brick kilns that lack water purifiers – meaning that families around them cannot access to fresh water. Lack of pre-existing wells and the low number of people living around these kilns have driven decisions to prioritise the other kilns for purifier installation. These families are still cooking with and drinking salty, unsafe water. On exceptional occasions though, like having guests over, they might ‘tap’ into their neighbours’ water tanks for fresh water to make a proper pot of tea.

Rippling impact

Iran is host to the fourth largest refugee population in the world. According to figures from the government of Iran, close to one million Afghan refugees officially reside in the country, with an estimated1.5 to two million living as undocumented. Although Iran is a middle-income country, the Human Development Index ranks the country at a low 69th.

NRC supports the government of Iran’s efforts to improve the living conditions for displaced Afghans living across the country. Fostering better standards of living for Afghan population in Iran is important for families like Tajik’s, especially in meeting basic needs like accessing potable water. Water purified by the equipment installed by NRC is regularly tested and has been confirmed to be of good quality.   

As one of the donors for these water purifiers, the Australian embassy delegation observed their impact during a recent visit to the area.

“The safe water project in DZK has met and exceeded our expectations,” commented the second secretary of the Australian Embassy in Tehran, William Lodder. “It is very obvious that the fantastic work NRC has done has led to increased standard of living, particularly in regards to provision of safe water. Thus, we look forward to see the future benefits of our work and cooperation.”