Flood Victims Feel Abandoned

Kabul accused of failing to assist those whose homes and livelihoods were swept away.

Flood Victims Feel Abandoned

Kabul accused of failing to assist those whose homes and livelihoods were swept away.

From his makeshift home on a hill, Sikandar peer downs silently at a muddy stream below, which a month ago flooded his village in the Chaharbolak district of Balkh province.

“God has buried everything I had under this water,” said Sikander, who lost his home and cattle in the raging torrent that engulfed the area.

He somehow managed to rescue his wife and children from the flood, which struck at midnight when they were all asleep.

Now they all live in an improvised tent – made from a blanket and some clothes – hoping it will protect them from the scorching sun.

Floods in the north and west of Afghanistan in late May killed around 220 people, and injured another 180, according to the local disaster management directorate. At least 1,600 families had their houses and livelihoods swept away.

Now, with the pitiless summer sun baking the plains of northern Afghanistan, many of these people are facing disease and ruin. They are angry, and blame the government for failing to provide any substantive relief for the majority of those affected.

“The government has done nothing to solve the problems of the displaced people other than distributing some tents and drinking water,” said Nooruddin, a flood victim from the Faizabad district of Jowzjan province.

Tired of waiting for aid to materialise, he has sought shelter with a relative.

The government says it is doing its best, but has to contend with a growing security problem. The normally calm northern provinces have recently seen an increase in insurgent activity, making it difficult for public sector workers to travel to the more remote regions.

“Due to recent insecurity, our surveys of the displaced are progressing very slowly,” said Rahmatullah Zahid, head of Balkh’s disaster management directorate. “Recently, some of the families living in tents in Chamtal district have contracted malaria, which is worrying.”

The most severely affected provinces in northern Afghanistan are Badakhshan, Jowzjan, and Takhar, as well as Balkh. But throughout the north and west, floods hit hundreds of villages, destroying more than 10,000 houses and displacing 50,000 families, according to Abdul Matin Idrak, head of the country’s disaster management directorate, speaking at a press conference in Kabul in June.

He added that his agency had been active in helping the affected families and handing out tents, and was reconstructing irrigation canals, bridges and orchards.

But for the families stranded in tent camps with poor sanitation and limited food, the relief has been very slow in coming. The Red Crescent Society is warning of a health care emergency if something is not done.

“Roughly 30 per cent of those displaced fell ill,” said Dr Najib Mahmoudi, who works with the Red Crescent Society in Jowzjan province. “The majority of cases are diarrhea and pneumonia, especially among the children.”

Dr Asif Khairkha, who heads the Red Crescent Society in Balkh province, told a similar tale,

“If help does not arrive soon we might have epidemics. People will be begging in the streets.”

Floods caused by heavy rain frequently occur during the spring in Afghanistan. However, this year’s floods, coming after a long period of drought, are the heaviest and most destructive in years.

Thousands of acres of farmland have been washed away, along with thousands of homes. Zahid said that no exact estimate of the damages had yet been compiled, but it was likely to be in the millions of dollars.

The victims from Balkh province were especially bitter, since they were given no advance warning of the disaster. In neighbouring Jowzjan, the provincial government were able to get the message out, saving lives, if not property.

“Our warning helped people to say safe,” said Engineer Abdul Rahman, head of the Jowzjan emergency situation department.

But one month on, that is small consolation to those who remain homeless.

According to journalist and political analyst Nabi Nasir, people should not wait for the government to help. The people of Afghanistan have little cause to expect the political elite in Kabul to have any empathy, he said.

“[President Hamed] Karzai’s government has been tested several times and failed,” said Nasir. “If Afghanistan goes up in flames the government officials in Kabul would not care about it.”

That is also the way Mohammad Saleh from Samangan province sees it. He was able to save his family but his house has been destroyed. He has been waiting for weeks for aid to come, but nothing has arrived. “I hope God will help us,” he said.

Naqib Ishaqzai is an IWPR-trained journalist in Balkh province.
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