Catastrophic landslides engulfed the 3 villages of Abb Bareek in Badakhshan on 2nd May 2014, burying what is feared to be hundreds of people and destroying homes and livelihoods. On the day of the disaster a wedding party was in full swing – but as the first smaller landslide struck at 10.30am, celebrations turned to grief and desperation, with villagers flocking to pull family and friends from the deadly mud flow.
Sadly, half an hour later a far larger landslide raced towards them, and many of those heroic rescuers perished. Whilst the official number of dead has been reported by the UN as 503 on 6th May, this figure represents only those bodies which have been recovered – it is feared hundreds more will remain forever buried under the mud.
The landslides have created both a multi-sectoral emergency and a longer-term relocation challenge. BAAG member agencies were quick to respond to the emergency. Afghanaid has worked in that district for many years and was on the scene within hours of the second landslide, alerting ANDMA (the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority) and other large NGOs to the crisis.
Afghanaid’s knowledge of the area and the trust of the community has provided vital information to shape the overall response. Islamic Relief and Concern Worldwide were also quick to bring urgent supplies to the affected community – with homes and water pipes destroyed or damaged, their provisions of tents, food, drinking water and essential household supplies (such as cooking utensils) has been critical.
Tragically, the likelihood of finding victims alive quickly diminished and on the 3rd the official rescue operations ceased. But desperate family members continued to dig in the mud – recovering bodies for a dignified funeral was as much a priority as finding survivors.
Concern reported that one villager they met rescued his family from the first landslide but as he was trying to pull his mother from her damaged home, she was swept from his grasp by the second landslide. Another woman they met sat uncontrollably weeping in the mud – having moved from the village to Kunduz with her husband, she had rushed back to find her family, only to learn that they were all lost – her father, mother, two brothers, sisters-in-law and their children.
The local and national public response has been unprecedented. News of what is the largest humanitarian disaster to hit the country in a decade quickly spread. The private sector and civil society responded with gifts of blankets, food and water bottles. On Twitter a picture was shared of a 10 year old girl donating the contents of her piggy-bank to a public fundraising effort.
Afghanaid report that there are now enough food donations for the affected families. However efforts to distribute these have encountered various problems. Accurate records of affected families are not available. Though all responding aid agencies have pledged to coordinate in a collective response, some have been seen delivering relief items separately house to house. This can result in duplication of support to some families, causing accusations of favouritism and corruption when tempers are already frayed. And in addition to this, an unfortunate stream of photos showing some government officials smiling to the cameras in their show of solidarity has raised eyebrows and questions regarding interruptions to relief activities during their visits.
Those government officials will need to make urgent decision on the longer-term needs of this community. Those living in tents will need transitional and then permanent housing support. This will involve selecting a site on which to build a new village – that site will need a water supply and other critical infrastructure. The livelihoods of the survivors must be addressed – most have been reliant on agriculture, many have lost both their means of income and food.
The needs of the most vulnerable must be prioritised – for example women living in tents have no privacy and must be protected, they need dedicated sanitation and washing facilities urgently, children have additional healthcare needs where sanitation facilities are lacking.
Afghanistan is responding as best it can to this disaster, at a time when many fear the international community, after 13 years of support, is starting to turn its back on the country. Whilst some of the Afghan government’s and security forces’ efforts should be applauded, much is still wanting. BAAG’s members stand ready to provide both emergency and longer-term support – if that is wanted and funded.
To donate to the landslide emergency response, please visit these sites: