Afghanistan: Great need for disaster preparedness and risk reduction

5 May, 2014
6 May 2014, Badakhshan, Afghanistan: “This tragedy highlights the need for greater attention to the larger issue of the natural disasters that are so frequent in the northern part of the country,” said Ms. Kang. “More attention needs to be focused on greater preparedness and disaster risk reduction.” Credit: UNAMA/Fardin Waezi
6 May 2014, Badakhshan, Afghanistan: “This tragedy highlights the need for greater attention to the larger issue of the natural disasters that are so frequent in the northern part of the country,” said Ms. Kang. “More attention needs to be focused on greater preparedness and disaster risk reduction.” Credit: UNAMA/Fardin Waezi

Following a visit today to the location of a deadly landslide which killed hundreds in north-eastern Afghanistan late last week, two senior United Nations humanitarian officials highlighted the longer-term needs of people displaced by natural disasters in the country and called for greater efforts towards preparedness.

Flying over the affected area, UN Deputy Humanitarian Chief Kyung-wha Kang and Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan Mark Bowden carried out an aerial inspection of the Nowabad area of Abi-Barik village in the Argo district of Badakhshan province.

“This tragedy highlights the need for greater attention to the larger issue of the natural disasters that are so frequent in the northern part of the country: the floods, the landslides and the droughts,” said Ms. Kang. “More attention needs to be focused on greater preparedness and disaster risk reduction.”

The Afghan Government and humanitarian partners confirmed that up to 500 people lost their lives and over 1,000 families were affected by the landside which took place on 2 May, following heavy rains. Some 300 homes were destroyed and the majority of the displaced families are staying with host families and in tents distributed by UN Agencies and NGOs.

“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 greater preventive measures,” said Mr. Bowden.

Extremely susceptible to recurring national disasters

Afghanistan is extremely susceptible to recurring natural disasters, due to its geographical location and years of environmental degradation. Over recent weeks, it has been dealing with the impact of flooding in other northern provinces, with the total number of people affected by April and May floods now standing at 71,000, with over 150 confirmed dead, in addition to those killed in the landslide.

UN agencies and NGOS are working with the authorities to help provide displaced people in Badakhshan province with food, water, hygiene supplies and sanitation. As of 4 May, the World Food Programme had distributed over 80 metric tonnes of food. Humanitarian partners are providing emergency health care and UNICEF has mobilized urgent psychosocial support for children. Aid organizations continue to liaise with the Government to find ways to support children who have lost their parents, including establishing child-friendly spaces.  

“The big challenges are always the logistical ones – getting access to the areas,” added Mr. Bowden. “This particular landslide was much more accessible which allowed for a quick response compared to the flood victims where it's been much more difficult to get to.

“What we’ve seen is that actual contingency stocks have made it possible to react very quickly to the immediate needs, but what the big challenge will be is responding adequately to the long-term needs,” he added. 

While in Faizabad, the two UN officials met with the Provincial Governor, Shah Waliullah Adeeb, and humanitarian partners active in the region, and discussed durable solutions to the needs of people displaced by natural disasters.

“I’d also like to put it into the context of the fact that this is the year that we’ve seen the most deaths from natural disasters for a decade in Afghanistan,” Mr. Bowden said. “The focus really has to be, in the months ahead, on how we make sure that those people who have been displaced, who have lost everything, lost their homes, are able to get back on their feet.”

Afghanistan regularly experiences flooding, earthquakes, avalanches, landslides and drought, in addition to other man-made disasters resulting in frequent loss of lives, livelihoods and property; contributing to high levels of poverty across the country. In particular, the country’s northern provinces can be severely affected by both floods and drought. Seasonal rains and spring snow-melt regularly result in life-threatening flash flooding in the region.