June 25, 2020 / 7:23 AM / 2 months ago

Afghanistan uses green stimulus to hire lockdown jobless, boost Kabul's water supply

Afghan labourers work on trenches on a hill to help improve the city's water supply, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan June 21, 2020. Picture taken June 21, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

KABUL (Reuters) - Zaker Hussain Zaheri was a cook in Afghanistan’s capital who lost his job in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, he digs trenches to capture rainwater and snowmelt on a mountain on the outskirts of Kabul, as the city grapples with both a water and health crisis.

Lockdown measures to curb the spread of the disease have taken their toll on Afghanistan’s economy, so the government is employing more than 40,000 jobless workers to rehabilitate groundwater supplies for its fast-growing capital.

“This is a tough job, but I have to do it to earn enough for food, and I have pride that I take part in the reconstruction of my country, this is good for the future of our country,” Zaheri, 28, said.

Planned to run for at least a year with twelve billion Afghanis ($155 million) in funding, the Kabul water project is paying labourers at least 300 afghanis ($3.90) per day to dig close to 150,000 trenches, as well as 17 small dams and spillways, on the outskirts of the mountainous Afghan capital.

Kabul’s groundwater supplies - its primary source of drinking water - have been over-exploited, putting the city of up to seven million people at risk of severe shortages, experts say.

Afghanistan has joined a growing global trend of countries, including neighbouring Pakistan, turning to “green stimulus” projects to address two urgent challenges at once: keeping the economy running through the pandemic and tackling the effects of climate change.

After work, Zaheri drinks tea and eats bread at home with his seven children. His eldest daughter Laila, 10, said she appreciated her father taking risks in going to out work on a mountain in the middle of a pandemic.

“The rich people don’t go out, and they stay at their homes at this juncture, but my father goes out and works for us,” she said.

Reporting by Sayed Hassib; writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Lincoln Feast.

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