Villagers cover the body of a landslide victim.
Many Afghans are questioning why the authorities gave up so quickly in the search for victims of Friday’s deadly landslides in the country’s northeast, leaving locals and volunteers to keep digging on their own. Less than a day after tragedy hit, officials had already put a halt to search and rescue efforts.
A first landslide, triggered by heavy rains, hit the village of Aab Bareek, up in the remote mountains of the country’s Badakhshan province, on Friday May 2. About 600 people from nearby villages rushed to help those trapped under the mud, only to be hit by a second landslide the very same day. Authorities have yet to provide an exact number of people killed; their estimates have varied wildly from between 250 and 2,700.
On Saturday, less than 24 hours after the landslides hit, the Afghan government announced it was ending rescue efforts due to a lack of necessary rescue equipment, and officials dispatched to the scene of the disaster performed funeral prayers. The next day, the village was officially declared a mass grave, meaning they believed there were no survivors to be found. Villagers told BBC Persian that they felt “insulted” by how quickly the authorities had halted their search. But volunteers from the region didn’t give up so easily, and kept digging, some with shovels, others with machinery lent by local businessmen. One amateur video circulating on social networks even claims to show a boy that was rescued, alive, not long after the authorities gave up.
In this video, a man explains that the boy was rescued thanks to machinery lent by a local resident, after the authorities had declared that there were no survivors.
The government’s perceived inaction has been widely criticised by Afghans on social media networks. Faced with this backlash, an official from the department of national disasters management told local media that villagers had asked the authorities to give up the search so that the bodies of female victims would not be exposed. This controversy has spurred many individuals and organisations to collect money for the survivors.
“Instead of helping those buried under the mud, the officials performed funeral prayers for them”
Mossadeq Parsa is one of the directors of the Bahawi foundation, a charitable organisation founded by an Afghan taekwondo champion. The foundation has launched a donation drive to help the landslide victims.
Using the excuse of a lack of equipment to abandon rescue efforts is ridiculous, especially since Afghanistan has powerful allies present on its soil. Where else in the world do you see rescue efforts end only one day after a natural disaster?Photos of the delegation that was sent to the disaster zone have fueled this outrage. Instead of helping those buried under the mud, the officials performed funeral prayers for them. Important people like one of President Karzai’s advisers, the finance minister and the public works minister took a group photo next to the landslide. In it, the minister of public works, Najibullah Auodjan, is grinning!The photo that angered our Observer.We are told that 700 families are now homeless, and are in need of food, medicine, and places to live. [Editor’s Note: Many of them are currently living in tents donated by coalition forces.] In a country where deadly blasts and suicide bombings are daily occurrences, it’s heartening to see that many people, even those who are not financially well-off, are donating money to help these survivors. For the first time here, we’re seeing social media networks like Facebook being used to collect money. This has allowed people across the border in Iran to contribute, too. So far, my foundation has collected 20,000 dollars (about 14,300 euros). It’s a great start, but there is definitely still need for more, as these people will need to completely rebuild their lives.
The Afghan government has sent in food and supplies as well. President Hamid Karzai toured the disaster site on Wednesday, and promised victims that homes would be rebuilt for them.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Ershad Alijani (@ErshadAlijani).