Afghans struggle to distribute aid after devastating landslides

Aid workers and residents say that a lack of order, not a lack of supplies has left people still missing water, food, and shelter after landslides left up to 2,500 dead.

Mohammad Ismail/Reuters
Displaced Afghans wait to get their lunch near the site of a landslide at the Argo district in Badakhshan province May 5, 2014. Some 300 homes in Aab Bareek, a village in Argo, were buried under up to 50 meters of earth and debris.

Two days after landslides swept away his village, Abdel Khaleq tried to prove to relief workers that he needed aid. But with his tazkireh, national ID, now buried under dozens of feet of mud, it would be his word against hundreds of others asking for the same things – food, water, and shelter.

Mr. Khaleq, a lifelong resident of Aab Barik village, lost 22 family members when two weeks of heavy rain resulted in back-to-back mudslides on Friday that left as many as 2,500 people dead or trapped in this remote area of the Hindu Kush mountains. He is still without a tent after hours spent searching for one on Sunday. 

Aid workers and residents say poor coordination, not a lack of aid, has left Khaleq and hundreds of others without potable water, consistent food sources, proper shelter from the continued rains, and answers on the status of missing family members.

Domestic and international humanitarian groups – including the World Food Programme, the Afghan Red Crescent, and the International Organization for Migration – are gathered on a nearby mountaintop, where aid workers, journalists, and survivors searching for aid jostle for attention. Among those seeking assistance are families from neighboring districts who weren't affected by the landslides, local residents claim.  

Though high-level government officials have made daily visits to the site, locals accuse the government of not maintaining order or insuring that those truly in need are getting help.

Several of the aid agencies The Monitor spoke to said they lacked any list to help them sort Aab Barik residents actually in need from in need from those accused of coming from other areas.

Afghan officials have pledged over $900,000 in aid and President Hamid Karzai declared Sunday a national day of mourning. 

Locals speaking to the Monitor all said they had experienced land and mudslides in the past, but never imagined the scale of what they saw on Friday. More than 4,000 people are displaced. There are no plans to recover the bodies buried in the mud. 

The aid organizations have divvied up tasks, with the World Food Programme distributing staple food goods, the Afghan Red Crescent taking surveys and providing tents, and the International Organization for Migration conducting a survey in order to assess needs. 

Khaleq, whose home escaped destruction, but is now next to a mass grave, urged the government in Kabul to relocate the remaining residents.

“I’m afraid to return home. Every time the rain picks up a little I am reminded of my aunts and uncles who died only because they were in their homes,” he says. "Living here has become incredibly difficult."

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a presidential hopeful who came to speak on Monday afternoon, also supported relocation. He said that he, current President Karzai, and fellow presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah must "make a commitment to solve this problem...and ensure that no Afghan continues to live in danger.”

But two aid workers speaking to The Monitor on condition of anonymity said short visits by high-level officials have been detrimental to their efforts.

Pointing to the masses who rushed to see who would emerge from the helicopter Ahmadzai arrived in, the aid workers said the visits have cost them valuable time.

“Many of these people have never seen a helicopter in their lives and in the past three days with each landing they gather around to see who has come from Kabul," he says. "This is all time we could be using to talk them.”

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