Afghan plea for help on DRR

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By Brigitte Leoni

BANGKOK, 6 May 2014 - The Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA) today made an urgent appeal for greater support to disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts in the disaster-prone country following the large loss of life from mudslides in Badahkshan province at the weekend.

Initial reports stated that over 2,000 people had been killed. "The first figure that we announced was obtained from local people, not from our technical team," Gul Mohammad Bedar, the deputy governor of Badakhshan province, told AFP. "We think the death toll will not rise beyond 500," he said. Some 300 homes were destroyed and 4,000 people are homeless and in need of humanitarian aid.

The deaths were triggered by heavy rains and two major landslides which buried a village in Abi Barik located in Argu District, Badakhshan Province. Environmental degradation was a major factor in the tragedy.

“What happened over the week end in Argu is a lesson learned for all of us who are working to reduce disaster risk. We need more assessment strategies and to work closer with communities to increase their awareness on mudslide risk as it will happen again,” said Mohammad Ajmal Karimi, ANDMA's Deputy Director for International Relations.

The situation underlines the fact that only 0.4% of aid is spent on disaster risk reduction. Additionally, a recent report from the London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI) said funding for DRR has been focused on a small number of middle-income countries with many high-risk nations such as Afghanistan receiving a disproportionately smaller share.

Ecuador, the second highest recipient per capita, received 19 times more than Afghanistan. The top ten supported countries received $8 billion between them with 144 other countries receiving just $5.6 billion combined over the last twenty years.

“It is urgent now to speed up the Istanbul process agreed in 2012 and in particular the confidence building measure which makes disaster management a priority in Afghanistan,” said Mr. Karimi,

Afghanistan together with 13 other countries among them China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, the Republic of Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and the United Arab Emirates agreed in 2011 to the Istanbul Process on Regional Security and Cooperation for a Secure and Stable Afghanistan and developed, in 2012, seven confidence building measures (CBMs) with the first being “development of joint guidelines for cooperation in the field of disaster management”.

The 13 countries agreed to organize disaster response seminars, to improve their knowledge and experience on dealing with the impact of disasters and to set up regional early warning system in particular for droughts and other water-related threats. UNISDR is working with ANDMA and other UN agencies to support the process.

Mr. Karimi said: “We are facing huge challenges: a lack of budget, a high level of vulnerability and poor public awareness and we need the support of the international community to help us building the resilience of villages as part of the current peace process. People who are living in these vulnerable areas have often no choice. They are very poor and they need to be better protected.”

Flying over the affected area, UN Deputy Humanitarian Chief Kyung-wha Kang and Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan Mark Bowden carried out an aerial inspection of the disaster zone.

“This tragedy highlights the need for greater attention to the larger issue of the natural disasters that are so frequent in the northern part of the country: the floods, the landslides and the droughts,” said Ms. Kang. “More attention needs to be focused on greater preparedness and disaster risk reduction.”

“I think when you fly over the area itself, and see how the earth moved and the fragility of the environment here, it highlights the long-term risk to the population in this very vulnerable province and the need for greater preventive measures,” said Mr. Bowden.

Badakhshan Province lies roughly 300 kilometers (186 miles) northeast of Kabul and is one of Afghanistan's most remote areas sharing a border with Tajikistan, China and Pakistan. It is extremely susceptible to flooding, earthquakes, avalanches, landslides, and drought which are causing frequent loss of lives, livelihoods, and property.

Asia is the continent most affected by landslides, The Americas suffers more deaths and Europe bears the most economic losses with an average of almost US$23 million per landslide.

Date: 6 May 2014