H2O. Liquid of life. Something that all of us Westerners take for granted, especially those of us who don’t live in a water restricted area. Even there – SW US, areas of Australia – water restriction is usually related to agriculture, lawn watering, car washing. It does not have much to do with drinking water.
At home if I want water it is easy; I can turn on the tap. I automatically expect it to be clear, clean, and safe. City supplied water to the house. Water treatment is part of normal public health oversight so that I don’t have to worry about potability*. It is safe to drink and use, directly from the tap. And by home I mean Germany/UK/US. It doesn’t matter. The water standards may vary a small amount by country but there are standards and there is oversight. If I want something fancy, I can buy bottled water with or with out carbonation.
(*Potability implies that the water is free of infectious disease elements such as bacteria and parasites as well as free of excessive levels of any harmfull chemicals, elements, or substances).
Back to Afghanistan. Remember this is a landlocked country. No shores – no easy access to large bodies of water (for desalinisation). Also, no near source of water which can rise to be precipitated out by the mountain ranges. There are limited springs which means all the water comes from snow melt. During a winter like this one where there has been little snow at high elevations and almost no rain there will be significant consequences for both city and agriculture come spring. Add to that all the Allies with money and the ability to sink wells for water – just one more thing affecting the water table.
Back to the troops. Given there is no local, easily available safe water supply, we have to create our own.
Water is used for multiple purposes – drinking, washing, laundry, cooking just to name a few. The quality of water needed for each of these purposes varies. It is just about standard that we restrict military to drinking bottled water. There is continuous surveillance of the water bottling plants and constant testing of the water to insure that it meets home country standards. Movement of water is a major logistical challenge. Pallets and pallets and pallets of 500cc bottles. We have gotten out of the habit of bottling in 1.5 liters – there was just too much wastage
Washing water (people and laundry) must be disinfected, i.e. not containing infectious agents. It can have levels of mineral content unacceptable for consumption.
Cooking requires potable water – the water will be consumed as part of the food (think soup, sauces, coffee and everything else in between), otherwise it is used for washing all those industrial size pots and pans. Again, clean implies nothing left on or in those pots to make people ill at a later time.
Similarly, hospitals require potable water.
There are various logistical planning factors; Westerns expect about 20 liters per person/per day. We could get by on a lot less but we expect freshly cooked food, clean clothes, and the ability to take showers. Now, think of the number of military in the country plus Allied contractors.
Traditionally, everyone thinks of beans and bullets as the critical military support needs. In reality, everyone who has dealt with refugee situations knows a few basic facts: safe water comes first, then comes sanitation.