KABUL, Afghanistan — The immediate danger might be over, but thousands in Afghanistan remain vulnerable as they await additional aid following a deadly landslide last Friday. Local non-profit organizations and international NGOs have sent emergency food, water, and shelter, as many Afghan families struggle to recuperate.
The landslide was one of the worst natural disasters the country has seen in decades. The number of casualties is estimated between 400 and 2,000. Nearly 14,000 are currently displaced.
The number of displaced families is expected to rise, as nearby streams dammed up by mud and debris cause extensive flooding throughout the village’s remains. Most families living in the depleted hillside’s shadow have fled for fear of another landslide, predicted from ominous cracks near where the soil originally gave way. Increasingly hazardous living conditions may result in water-born diseases and other deadly health concerns.
Nearly all Abi Barak residents lost some degree of land, livestock, and belongings. Most survivors report having not eaten in days, while a minority of the population has received tents and blankets to replace their homes in the interim.
“I am so hungry I could scratch your eyes out,” said Bibi Jaahan, a grandmother in her early 60s who lost several family members in the mud. “I haven’t eaten for over two days.”
Survivors have received significant assistance from the government and international sources. Reports claim that dozens of trucks with food rations and other necessities arrived promptly, but organizational and transparency issues have hindered distribution efforts.
Organizations include Afghanistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, the International Organization for Migration, the Red Crescent Society and several prominent UK charities, including Save the Children and Islamic Relief Worldwide. The UN has arrived to distribute polio vaccines, and Oxfam is making plans to join the effort as soon as possible.
Mechanical diggers and other construction equipment were sent to rescue trapped individuals, but to no avail. The surrounding land was assessed as inaccessible and too dangerous for entry, resulting in the recall of rescue teams. The site was consequently dubbed a mass grave.
Immediately following the initial onset of sliding mud, an estimated 600 onlookers rushed to the scene to save those caught in its path, ultimately losing their lives as more mud soon followed. Vice President Yunus Qanuni, several Prime Ministers and Parliament Members have been on the scene for days, praying alongside the families and promising more aid.
Badakhshan, Afghanistan’s poor province, was hit by the landslide as well. Located in the mountainous northeast corner between Tajikistan, China and Pakistan, Badakhshan regularly struggles to uphold a successful agricultural economy due to its remote location and at times harsh environment. Reports from 2005 indicate that the majority of Badakhshan’s population lives in moderate to extreme poverty. Only 1 percent of households have access to electricity, only 13 percent have access to safe drinking water and transportation infrastructure covers less than half (43.6 percent) of the province.
Food insecurity is especially significant in Badakhshan, despite its primarily agricultural economy. In 2005, roughly 75 percent of Badakhshan families struggled to satisfy their food needs between 1 and 6 times a year. Of the region’s citizens, 2 in every 5 individuals are suspected of receiving less than the minimum daily caloric intake to maintain good health, and almost the entirety of the population has poor dietary diversity and consumption.
The province is forced to rely upon a significant amount of government aid a year, with 24 percent receiving regular food allocations, and 36 percent taking out annual loans to cover mandatory personal and business expenses.
Badakhshan is hit by natural disasters frequently, which regularly damages its households and farmland. The number of natural disasters contributes significantly to the poor economic situation in the province. Many of the houses destroyed last week were provided by the government as compensation for past landslide displacements.
Aside from farming, economic activities in Badakhshan include jewelry, rug and poverty making. Efforts in recent years have focused on providing loans to make the province’s business endeavors more widely accessible within the national and international market. Such efforts are a vital source of hope for the region’s future.