Lost Loves and Livelihoods: Stories of Survival From Afghanistan’s Deadly Landslide
By Vijay Raghavan, Assistant Country Director, Programs, Concern Worldwide Afghanistan
On Friday, May 2, Faida Amir was rejoicing the marriage of his daughter alongside friends and family in their remote village of Aab Bareek, burrowed deep in the mountains of northeastern Afghanistan. At 11 am, the celebration came to an abrupt end when the hill above them, softened by recent rains, came sliding down, burying most of the wedding guests and the surrounding village in mud.
I traveled to Aab Bareek on May 3 on behalf of Concern Worldwide to bring basic relief supplies—tents, water containers and critical household supplies, including cooking utensils, soap and towels—and to get a better understanding of how we can help. One after another, the stories poured from shocked survivors.
Kanda Agha was among those who rushed to pull loved ones from the mud. A smaller landslide came first. He was trying to free his mother when a second larger landslide followed just minutes later. He survived, but many of the rescuers were buried along with those they were trying frantically to save.
It is one of the deadliest landslides in recent history in an area that is no stranger to landslides and the cruelty of nature. While the death toll is still being tallied, more than 2,000 people are missing and another 4,000 people displaced.
Even with excavation equipment, the sheer magnitude of the mudslide made it impossible to recover possible survivors. I saw the desperate last attempts to find missing loved ones Saturday. As it became clear that the search was fruitless, friends and relatives of the deceased gathered around the site to pray.
Mohammad Karim Khalili, Vice President of Afghanistan during his visit to the village, told those present in the meeting that the area will now be made into a graveyard.
Sajeda, who moved from Aab Bareek to Kunduz Province when she married, returned home Saturday to find that all of her family members–her mother, father, two brothers, sister-in-laws, nieces and nephews–had been consumed in the landslides.
“Seven members of my family are buried here, what can I do?” she said as she sobbed.
The focus is now on supporting the displaced, many of whom lost not only their homes and all of their belongings, but loved ones as well.
Gul Nesa, a widow, lost her two sons to the landslide, along with her home and all that she owned. She told me she is now completely alone, uncertain of what to do next or how she will get by, and spent Friday night outside because she had nowhere to go.
She is one of hundreds of people who now have no shelter and are sleeping out in the open in near freezing conditions. Others are sleeping in the town’s remaining mosques.
Mehrabuddin is among Aab Bareek’s new homeless. His wife was pregnant and expecting a baby in a few days and he left home on Friday morning to call on the local midwife to check on her. He came home to find his entire home devoured by earth and, along with it, his wife and newborn baby.
Every person I met had a story of loss to share, whether their wife or husband, son or daughter, sister or brother. Those who were lucky enough to have their family spared lost homes as well as agricultural land, livestock and other critical assets.
As rains continue to fall, the risk of another landslide in or near Aab Bareek is real and threatening. Farmers in the area have agreed to relocate residents temporarily to their fields so that they are safer. This means that even those who have not lost their homes will need our support, as their livelihoods will be stressed as well.
The Afghan government and non-governmental organizations like Concern Worldwide have started to distribute tents as well as food and drinking water, but much more needs to be done so that people can start reassembling their lives. This includes support to rebuild lost livelihoods as well as textbooks and school supplies for children.
For Faida, the moments of joy in seeing his daughter wed are a distant memory. Having lost his home, Faida is living in the open air with 13 family members, left with nothing but the clothes they were wearing and whatever furniture, caked in mud, they could recover from the double landslides that devastated Aab Bareek.
About Concern Worldwide
Concern Worldwide is an international, non-governmental humanitarian organization dedicated to reducing extreme poverty, with approximately 3,000 personnel working in 25 of the world‘s poorest countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Caribbean. Concern Worldwide targets the root causes of extreme poverty through programs in health, education, livelihoods and microfinance, HIV and AIDS, and emergency response, directly reaching more than 6.5 million people. For more information, please visit concernusa.org or follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
Photos provided by Concern Worldwide.