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Scrum to help Afghan landslide victims leaves aid distribution in chaos

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 6 May 2014 13:19 GMT
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Displaced Afghans wait for aid near the site of a landslide at the Argo district in Badakhshan province May 5, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
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NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Poor management in dealing with the overwhelming response to last week's devastating landslide in Afghanistan has resulted in chaos and confusion over the provision of food, water and shelter to victims, aid workers said on Tuesday.

At least 400 people were killed on Friday after heavy rains triggered a landslide which sent a deluge of mud and rocks crashing on top of a village in the remote Badakhshan province, bordering Tajikistan.

Over 2,000 people are still missing, but Afghan authorities have called off the search, saying it is impossible to continue as homes are buried in up to 50 metres (150 feet) of mud and debris. The site has been turned into a mass grave.

Aid workers say poor coordination of relief supplies which have been brought in by foreign relief agencies, local charities, governments, businessmen and individuals has led to unequal and indiscriminate distribution - angering many victims.

"It was reported as an enormous disaster, and so we all rushed in to save lives and people started distributing before any assessments and without any coordination," Mohammad Shafiq Ibrahimi, emergency project coordinator for the Norwegian Refugee Council, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"As a result, aid was distributed to everyone - including people from neighbouring areas who were actually not affected but who took advantage of the situation. Four days on, it is difficult to know who is a real beneficiary and who is not."

Ibrahimi said this had led to tensions within the community, with some people getting more aid than others. Fights and arguments had broken out, he said.

The United Nations estimates that around 1,000 families have been affected, with some 300 houses in Aab Bareek village in Argo district totally destroyed. Each family has around five members.

Many people are living in tents, and while blankets and other materials have been distributed, the displaced face cold temperatures at night and need fuel to use in heaters, say aid workers.

The survivors, they add, will also need to be relocated in the long-term as the area is highly prone to landslides.

Afghanistan is extremely susceptible to natural disasters, due to its geographical location and years of environmental degradation.

The heavy rains which triggered the landslide, have also sparked flash floods which have inundated villages and forced more than 70,000 people from their homes in the north of the country. More than 150 people have died in the past month.

The flood waters have damaged homes, public infrastructure, roads and thousands of hectares of agricultural land in some of the worst affected provinces of Jawzjan, Faryab and Sar-E-Pul.

The two calamities have highlighted the need for disaster preparedness, say U.N. officials.

"This is the year that we’ve seen the most deaths from natural disasters for a decade in Afghanistan," said Mark Bowden, U.N. Emergency Coordinator for Afghanistan, after visiting the area devastated by the landslide, on Monday.

"I think when you fly over the area itself, and see how the earth moved and the fragility of the environment here, it highlights the long-term risk to the population in this very vulnerable province and the need for long-term preventive measures."

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