Afghan resilience has once again been tested. On this occasion it’s not by bombs, gunfire or the Taliban, but by extreme weather, which has driven people from their homes.
I know the BBC reported on the devastation caused by a double landslide in the Argo district of Budakshana few weeks ago. However, that was just one disaster caused by the unusual rains sweeping Afghanistan. I thought I would tell you about another disaster which didn’t make the headlines.
On the evening of 24 April 2014, heavy rains and melting ice in the Hindu Kush led to flash floods in six provinces of northern Afghanistan. The rains killed at least 76 people in Jawzjan, the worst-hit province; many of those killed were children and the elderly.
Around 6,000 families (44,000 individuals) were affected by the flood, and 1,000 houses have been completely destroyed. Additionally, many animals were killed, and around 20,000 hectares of farmland were ruined. The Afghan National Army helicopters have evacuated some 1,000 individuals in the villages of Khaja Dukoo District.
‘I have never experienced anything like it in my lifetime. All our belongings were in the house and all of them were destroyed by flood.’
Gulbahar, grandmother, Afghanistan
One of those airlifted to safety was Gulbahar,* a grandmother from Khaja Dukoo. The flash flood came as a shock for her. ‘It was the middle of the night and all my family members were asleep. Since I am very old I do not sleep well, I was the first to notice a very loud sound, and an awful smell coming towards our house,’ she says.
Gulbahar asked her grandson to investigate, and he found to his horror that the house was filling up with muddy water. The family quickly decamped to the roof, where they were stranded for ten hours. ‘I have never experienced anything like it in my lifetime. All our belongings were in the house and all of them were destroyed by flood,’ she says.
In the morning Gulbahar and her family were rescued by a helicopter. ‘When we came out of the helicopter some humanitarian workers were there assisting the flood-affected families,’ she recalls. ‘They selected me and gave me a tent with other materials for my family, which made me very happy. I hope that I will not experience such a horrible flood again in my life.’
Tearfund has been working in Jawzjan for the last five years, and we responded to the flooding the very next day. We helped families like Gulbahar’s by providing tents, tarpaulins, soap and other essentials to meet their immediate needs; we’re also planning a cash-for-work programme for the coming months.
Three weeks on, the majority of the flood-affected families have been assisted. However, the water and sanitation situation is still a concern. Communities are dependent on water tankers (very similar to the tankers that take fuel to petrol stations in the UK), and with a lack of latrines there are reports of widespread open defecation, increasing the risk of water-borne diseases.
The families who were evacuated cannot yet return, as the flood water still hasn’t drained away. Many families like Gulbahar’s have very little to go home to, with their crops destroyed and their mud houses washed away. And did I mention that the area that was flooded is normally a desert?
Please pray for the families affected as they try and rebuild their lives in the months ahead, especially during the winter months, when they won’t have this year’s harvest to see them through the year. Pray especially for the most vulnerable, that they will receive the help they need and won’t be forced to sell off precious assets.
Please also keep us at Tearfund in your prayers, together with the other aid organisations who are responding to these disasters that bypass the headlines.
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