UN rushes to support search, rescue effort after landslides hit north-eastern Afghanistan

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2012, Badakhshan, Afghanistan: A village swamped by an avalanche in Badakhshan, northern Afghanistan. An improved approach to disaster assessment is helping aid agencies and the government provide quicker and more appropriate assistance to affected communities © OCHA

2 May 2014 – Landslides triggered by heavy rains crashed into an area of north-eastern Afghanistan today, killing at least 350 people and causing widespread damage to homes and agriculture, according to a senior United Nations relief official in the country, who said the world body is “fully engaged” in the effort to mobilize support for the initial search and rescue effort.

“The foremost priority at the moment is saving as many lives as possible of those still beneath the rubble,” said Mark Bowden, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan, adding in a statement that “the UN system is fully engaged in the ongoing effort and is mobilizing more capacity and resources to bolster the response.”

The UN says heavy rain-induced landslides struck in the Argo district of Badakhshan, causing significant loss of life and widespread damage to homes and agriculture. Provincial authorities report that more than 350 Afghans have been killed, more are still missing and many families have been displaced.

“On behalf of the UN humanitarian agencies, I wish to extend our condolences to all those families who have lost loved ones as a result of these landslides,” said Mr. Bowden, adding: “There have now been more Afghans killed through natural disasters in the past seven days than all of 2013.”

The Afghan Government’s Provincial Disaster Management Committee (PDMC) is leading the coordination of operational response within Badakhshan, with support from humanitarian agencies.

Whilst search and rescue operations remain the immediate priority, assessments have been initiated to determine the full extent of the damage caused, as well as respond to the immediate needs of the population. With some areas still difficult to access, it may be some time yet until a clear picture of the full extent of the damage is known, according to the UN.

Northern Afghanistan continues to be susceptible to recurring natural disasters, where seasonal rains and spring snow melt regularly result in life-threatening flash floods and landslides.

The National Disaster Management Commission, supported by the international humanitarian community, regularly prepares contingency plans to help better prepare and respond to such disasters, as well as mitigate the impact.

“Given these ongoing risks and vulnerabilities, the critical importance of investing in disaster risk reduction and enhanced mitigation measures must remain a key priority in those communities most prone to hazards,” Mr. Bowden added.