Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Tajik Mudslide Refugees Out in The Cold

With not enough money to rebuild homes, disaster victims face a winter under canvas.
By Sayrahmon Nazriev
Saidbek Nazarov sighed sadly as he pointed at the tent he occupies with his wife and five children. This has been their home since their house in the village of Shohrokh was destroyed in the mudslides that hit southern Tajikistan this spring.

Saidbek and his wife are deaf, so another villager, Saifiddin Sobirov, told their story.

“It’s hard living in a tent,” said Sobirov, pointing out that the country’s extreme temperatures made things worse.

“In summer it’s hot and the heat of the sun is unbearable. Water has to be fetched from far away,” he said. “And now at night it’s already getting really cold and children are falling ill.

“They [Nazarovs] are one of the poorest in our village,” Sobirov said, noting that they have no means to build their own house.

More than 100 families in Khuroson district are still living in tents, months after their homes were damaged or destroyed by torrents of mud. They complain that the financial assistance the government has provided is not enough to put a roof over their heads, and that some residents have lost out through mismanagement.

This spring’s mud flows, landslides and flooding followed abnormally heavy rainfall in 40 districts across Tajikistan, which left 26 people dead and over 3,000 displaced. Khuroson was one of the areas worst hit, suffering mudslides on April 21-22 and again on May 14, and Tajikistan’s United Nations office says 477 families in this district were displaced. (See Tajiks Struggle to Cope With Flood Damage, RCA No. 580, 12-Jun-09.)

“Unfortunately, some families have been unable to start building houses because there wasn’t the money,” said Asadullo Muminov, a representative of the Khuroson district administration.

Muminov said that although people wanted to go back to the village, government geologists had decided the area was too dangerous. The authorities have persuaded 136 families to start construction work in a new settlement where they have been allocated land.

But Muminov was not hopeful that they had the resources to complete the work before the cold weather set in.

“At present, 40 families have started building houses and I have to admit that their financial situation is very difficult indeed,” he said.

Nazarov claimed that in deciding how to allocate compensation, the authorities wrongly classified his family as only “partially affected” by the disaster. His brother was receded as having had his home completely destroyed, even though they had both shared the same house together with their families before the disaster.

So while Nazarov’s brother moved into a new home built by the authorities, he himself was given a plot of land, some building materials and the equivalent of several hundred US dollars to build the house himself. The cash was only enough to pay for the foundations.

Muminov agreed that Nazarov had been assessed incorrectly, but he said the local council had recently signed an agreement with an international relief organisation to fund several poor families to complete their houses.

“We will make sure the Nazarovs are among these families,” Muminov said.

In this impoverished part of Tajikistan there is little work available apart from growing and processing cotton. The majority of families survive due to members working abroad as labour migrants, usually in Russia or Kazakstan.

Like Nazarov, his neighbour Sobirov is having to rebuild his old home.

“Our houses were partially damaged,” he said. “I and my children, with four families between us, were each given a plot of land, six cubic metres of timber, six tons of cement, roof tiles and 3,000 somonis [680 dollars],” he said.

The funds, however, were not enough to pay builders to complete the work, so the family is doing much of it themselves. With a truckload of rock for the foundations costing up to 90 dollars and similar amount of sand priced at 35 dollars, money is tight.

“I don’t know whether we can complete our house or our children’s until the end of autumn,” he said.

Sobirov and other villagers are still grateful for aid from international agencies and the Tajik government. But there is an underlying feeling of bitterness at the way the help was distributed.

“I think there was some nepotism in the way the assessments and distribution were done,” said a man who gave his first name as Sherali, who says his ruined home was categorised as partially damaged, unlike that of a neighbour who got full compensation in the shape of a new home.

A prosecution service official in Khuroson told IWPR that a criminal case had been launched against a local official accused of listing two families as eligible for government help, despite the fact they came from a village unaffected by the disaster.

While the official is being investigated, his superior has been dismissed, the source said.

As for the Nazarovs, worries about whether they can secure roof above the head before winter comes have led them to consider sending their daughter to Russia to find work.

Despite fears for her safety, they feel they have no other choice at the moment.

Sayrahmon Nazriev is an IWPR-trained contributor.

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