Afghan villagers struggle to cope with landslides, floods and an uncertain future

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By Rajat Madhok

Survivors of recent floods and landslides in Afghanistan have begun to receive much-needed assistance, but for the thousands of families affected, recovery is still far away.

KHWAJA DU KOH, Afghanistan, 13 May 2014 – Flash floods and landslides in Afghanistan in the past weeks have affected 120,000 people across 16 provinces. An estimated 675 people have been killed, many of them swept away by floods or buried by mudslides.

For 35-year-old Mohammad Sediq, the heavy downpour on 26 April changed his life forever. His ramshackle house was among the many mud houses swept away by floods that swallowed the village in a matter of hours.

Today the distraught farmer is camping along with his family on the slopes of a hill not far from his destroyed home in Khwaja Du Koh, in Jawzjan province. “The flooding took place around 1:30 in the afternoon. I couldn’t save anything but myself and my family. Everything I have ever possessed is buried under the mud,” he says. Gone, too, are his livestock, which he could not save.

A few days later in Badakhshan province, a landslide caused by heavy rains engulfed one village and damaged three others, leaving hundreds buried under the debris. More than a thousand families have been affected by the disaster, and hundreds of houses destroyed. Survivors were evacuated to a location further away, as fears loomed of another landslide.

Providing help

UNICEF was among the first aid organizations to reach Sediq and his fellow villagers. The agency is supporting the Afghan Government in ensuring that basic survival supplies are distributed to those who have been made homeless by the disaster. “UNICEF, in partnership with other organizations, did an evaluation of basic needs of the displaced people, and provided high-energy biscuits and non-food items to them,” says Farid Dastgeer, UNICEF Child Protection Officer who has been working in Khwaja Du Koh since the calamity struck. “The non-food items consist of children’s clothing, blankets, first aid kits, and kitchen equipment, so that families can use these for basic cooking and survival. Now there has been an improvement to some extent with the waters receding.”

UNICEF is also broadcasting radio messages on the importance of proper sanitation and hygiene practices and the importance of immunization in reducing the risk of waterborne diseases. Local religious leaders have also been engaged and are delivering these key prevention messages daily during prayers.

On the outskirts of a neighbouring village close to Khwaja Du Koh, children run behind a water tanker that goes from point to point in the camp filling up temporary water tanks with safe drinking water. Mr. Dastgeer emphasizes that access to safe drinking water is critical: “With the help of the Government, we were able to provide safe drinking water by installing water tanks. Families now have access to drinkable water, which is chlorinated so as to make it safe for drinking. We have started setting up emergency latrines so that villagers do not defecate in the open.”

The disaster will have an impact on these villagers for months to come. Many of them depend on small-scale farming as a main source of income, but their season’s harvest lies buried under the mud.

As the sun goes down, Sediq and his family get together for a hastily cooked meal. When asked how they plan to cope with the tragedy, Mr. Sediq’s neighbour in the camp and village head Gul Mohammad distantly responds, “I have no idea how we can live like this, or where we can go from here.”