Thousands of families in Afghanistan and Pakistan are struggling to survive after heavy snow blanketed large parts of the country, causing avalanches and damaging or destroying many homes.
According to media reports, nearly 120 people have been killed in Afghanistan, where 22 provinces have been hit hard. In the north eastern province of Nooristan, bordering Pakistan, at least 45 people in one village perished under an avalanche. Many people were reported to have been trapped and froze to death in their homes or their cars.
The Afghan Red Crescent Society has mobilised staff and volunteers to conduct assessments in the affected areas and to distribute non-food relief items including blankets and shelter materials.
“Life will never be the same for these families,” says Ariel Kestens, Head of Country Office for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Afghanistan.
“Losing everything that they have overnight is already tragic enough. Having to cope with extreme cold on top of that is a life-changing experience, regardless of how used to low temperatures they are. We will continue carrying out assessments to determine our next course of action and how best to meet the needs of the affected communities.”
It is estimated that up to 3 meters of snow fell in different parts of Afghanistan and 17 avalanches were reported within a period of three days. Continued wind storms and frozen ground have made it a challenge for affected communities to erect tents and build temporary shelters.
Initial assessments indicate that limited food supplies in local markets have caused prices of basic commodities to rise.
“In the village of Afsye, Bargematal district, 70 houses have been destroyed by the avalanches,” explains Mr. Muhammad Mahab Khan, the Head of Operations for the Afghan Red Crescent Society.
“Local villagers recovered 60 bodies. Most of our Red Crescent volunteers living in the affected villages were themselves victims of the disaster. The initial three days following the avalanches were challenging as we were not able to formally deploy our response teams.”
Afghan Red Crescent volunteers reported that most of the collapsed houses were built from clay and mud bricks, and were poorly constructed. In some areas there is an urgent need for health services and the local authorities have deployed helicopters and snow clearance teams to the avalanche sites. Search and rescue units have also been mobilized along with emergency relief supplies.
In Pakistan, the heavy snowfall comes at a time when many are still struggling to recover from a recent wave of flooding in which 13 people died and around 650 others were reported injured.
In the district of Balochistan, the Pakistan Red Crescent distributed 10,000 sleeping bags and 5,000 blankets in Mastung and Kalat. 1,000 non-food items, including tents, tarpaulin sheets and blankets were distributed in Kharan. Red Crescent assessment teams have identified food, health, water, sanitation and hygiene promotion to be the most crucial needs at this point.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) condemns the killing on February 8 of six staff members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Afghanistan. They were killed while delivering aid to communities affected by snowstorms in Shibergan and Jawzan province. Two other staff members remain missing. Read the full statement by IFRC here