Grassroots activist brings clean water to Afghanistan

Wed Jan 6, 2010 10:08am EST
 
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By Jon Hurdle

PERKIOMENVILLE, Pa (Reuters) - Aldo Magazzeni leans across the table in his farmhouse kitchen and explains why, when it comes to supplying clean water to thousands of impoverished Afghanis, small really is beautiful.

During the last five years, the 60-year-old co-owner of a New Jersey manufacturing firm has arranged for some 75,000 people in remote areas of Afghanistan to be connected to community water systems.

His efforts helped to end the toil of fetching water and to reduce water-borne diseases, particularly among children.

The key to his success, he says, is not large sums of money or the involvement of international aid organizations, but his willingness to cultivate relationships with communities and to persuade them to donate the labor that has reduced costs to a fraction of what a commercial contractor would charge.

Magazzeni estimates the total cost of 12 water systems built so far at $80,000, in contrast to at least $500,000 that he says would have been charged commercially.

"With less money, and keeping things small, I have accomplished more than I would have done if I had a ton of money," Italian-born Magazzeni said.

His work started after a solo mountaineering trip to Afghanistan in 2004 when he stayed in the remote village of Kwalkoo in the Panjsher Valley, an area rarely visited by outsiders. Villagers had to walk a mile or more to a spring for clean water.

Sensitized to the needs of poor communities after working in Haiti, Kenya and Mexico since the late 1990s, Magazzeni struck up relationships with village elders, who told him they wanted a water system. He found water engineers to help install a system, and won the backing of the local governor.   Continued...

 
<p>Aldo Magazzeni, who has provided clean water for thousands of improverished Afghanis, is shown in Afghanistan's Panjsher Valley in 2005. REUTERS/Qaiss Narim/Handout</p>