By Tom Willcox

The inhabitants of Labaabe Baala village in Afghanistan’s Samangan province had struggled for seven months to secure a clean and safe water source, ever since the village well fell into disrepair.

The water source has finally been fixed as a result of regional policy dialogues held between the head of the Community District Council, two members of the Shura and three religious leaders and community elders. Furthermore, this feat was accomplished not through donor funds, but through the community’s own initiatives.

“These regional policy dialogues are like bridges,” says Rahimullah Morshidi, Counterpart International’s Director of Community and Policy Engagement in Afghanistan. “They enable follow-up of the issues which are recommended by RPD participants, ensuring the relevant responsible parties engage with the community to find a suitable solution.”

The dialogues are facilitated through Counterpart’s USAID-funded Initiative to Promote Afghan Civil Society (I-PACS II) program, which provides technical and financial support to a network of key partner organizations.

The program convenes regional policy dialogues on a quarterly basis across Afghanistan—forums specifically designed to enable civil society organizations, government officials, community members, and donors to interact and find solutions to community and regional challenges.

When Labaabe Baala’s water problem was nominated as a priority issue at a regional policy dialogue hosted by three I-PACS partners in Jawzjan province, one of the organization’s Community Dialogue officers traveled to the village to investigate.

When he arrived, Ali Ahmad Zalmai discovered the village well had been built with poor quality materials. Both the pump and the handle had only worked for a month after being installed. Community members, lacking the knowledge and resources to repair the well themselves, had expected support from the government.

Zalmai encouraged further discussions about the issue with community members, which led to suggestions that the well could be fixed without external funding if the villagers agreed to chip in for the cost of maintenance.

“The community members themselves decided to contribute to rebuilding the water well,” says Zalmai. “They calculated the repair of the well to be 18,000 Afghanis (approximately $350), and each individual contributed 100 to 1000 Afghanis ($2–$20) depending on their financial limits.”

The collaborative problem-solving and joint decision-making gave the people of Labaabe Baala a sense of responsibility and ownership of the well, in addition to ensuring its operation and maintenance.

“We are now trying our best to take care of the water,” says community member Raees Khaliq. “We have a specific time for people in the community to come and take the water and we even lock the manual pump when it is not being supervised.”

The well repairs alone had an extremely important impact on the community of Labaabe Baala, now able to access clean, safe water.

But the process by which it was able to restore the well is indicative of a far greater achievement: the empowerment of an engaged community to resolve issues and find sustainable solutions on its own.