Government says it is mobilising aid but villagers say more is urgently needed.
Flood-hit villagers in a remote, high-mountain region of Tajikistan say their government has been too slow in responding to devastating floods that have left many areas cut off.
Ten people have died, and many others have lost their homes in flooding and mudslides in the Badakhshan region in the southeast of the Central Asian state.
Badakhshan is the worst-hit area, but many other parts of Tajikistan have suffered flooding, after a heatwave in the second half of July led to sudden melting of snow and glacial ice, later compounded by heavy rain.
Rivers burst their banks and floodwaters and mudflows caused devastation to buildings, bridges, roads and power lines.
Abakhon Sultonnazarov, IWPR’s regional director for Central Asia, was visiting Badakhshan when the flooding occurred. He said villagers were running out of food supplies, and they feared that a lake formed by the floodwaters could burst at any moment and overwhelm villages located along the river Gund.
“I’m in the village of Charsem on the upper reaches of the river Gund, 75 kilometres from [Badakshan’s main town] Khorog,” he said in a phone interview. “The disaster happened on July 16, and we’re now cut off from Khorog. People are mostly panicking that other villages could suffer the same kind of flooding as Barsem.”
Seventy houses have been destroyed in Barsem, the worst affected of the settlements along the river Gund.
Sultonnazarov said other villages he visited in the area were less badly hit, although in one, called Depasta, locals were spending 24 hours a day shoveling trenches to divert the water flow from their settlement.
Tajikistan’s foreign ministry is appealing for international disaster relief assistance for all parts of the country hit by the flooding, and estimates the damage at 100 million US dollars. It points out how hard it is to deliver aid since so many road have been swept away.
President Imomali Rahmon has announced that families who have lost their homes will receive compensation of 10,000 somoni (1,600 dollars), while those whose houses have suffered some damage will be entitled to 6,000 somoni.
Residents of the capital Dushanbe and other cities have been collecting cash donations and humanitarian aid.
A spokesman for the ministry for emergency situations, Orif Nozimov, said it was doing everything necessary to deliver assistance.
However, residents of Badakhshan say the help has been slow in arriving. They also argue that the government should be better prepared to deal with natural disasters, since they are not uncommon in this mountainous region.
Badakhshan still has no early warning system for disasters, and rescue services are unprepared.
“Not a single bulldozer could be found in this area when the flooding started,” said Zoirsho, a 40-year-old resident of Vanj district. “The ministry for emergency situations has neither machinery nor any other specialised rescue equipment. How is that acceptable?”
For want of external assistance, he said, “Local lads from the district cut down trees on their own and took other measures to strengthen the river banks and protect their homes.”
Hilvatshoh Mahmud, a journalist from Vanj, agreed that officials were responding too slowly. Well before any rescue services arrived, local people were out looking for the bodies of six people who died after their van was caught in a mudslide.
Sultonnazarov said help had so far only reached Barsem and a few other villages that had received a lot of attention in the media and on social networks, while the situation elsewhere had been ignored.
“There are villages that are cut off and I don’t think people there can get in or out,” he said. “Some villages are completely cut off from the town [of Khorog], and there isn’t the machinery to get to these people. I haven’t seen any officials… talking to people or telling them when the roads will be opened.”
A resident of Suchon in Badakhshan’s Shughnan district, who asked to remain anonymous, told IWPR in a phone interview that his village had been entirely cut off from the world. All the bridges had been destroyed and the main road had been washed away.
Miraculously, there were no casualties as residents were evacuated by trained volunteers both by the emergencies ministry and by Focus Humanitarian Assistance, a non-government organisation affiliated to the Aga Khan Development Network, which has a long history of work in Tajikistan.
This man said he had no complaints about the government response. “The prime minister has been on a visit. Yesterday, flour was brought in by helicopter,” he added.
Along the river Gund, the newly-formed lake is blocking an access road and could spill over and cause another deluge.
“People are afraid what might happen next,” the Suchon resident said. “The prognosis is that the road isn’t going to be rebuilt any time soon. That lake has formed there, and nearly four kilometres of road has been destroyed. There’s practically no road for cars to drive along. It needs to be built from scratch, and that’s going to take more than six months.”
Nilufar Karimova is an IWPR contributor in Tajikistan.