(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Flood response highlights limited humanitarian capacity

[Afghanistan] Farmer Wali Jaan's land completely destroyed by locusts.
IRIN

Flood assessments are continuing in Afghanistan’s remote provinces almost a week after rainstorms and melting snow caused flooding across a third of the country’s provinces.

The United Nations acting humanitarian coordinator, Rick Corsino, told IRIN on Thursday the total relief requirements were not high, but the wide distribution of flooding was the problem.

“It is placing tremendous stress on the limited humanitarian capacity in the country,” he said.

In the central province of Daykundi, needs assessment was to have been completed by Tuesday, but Corsino said delays were due to difficulties in doing it from the air. The assessment work in Daykundi and other remote areas should be completed on Thursday, allowing relief efforts to begin aid delivery on Friday, he added.

A report by Afghanistan’s Department of Disaster Preparedness (DDP), issued on Wednesday, listed damage in 10 provinces, including thousands of destroyed and damaged houses. Floods also damaged roads, bridges, irrigation works and farmland, as well as destroying livestock.

The DDP report warned that most of the available data was still based on preliminary assessments that needed further verification.

Relief effort under way in Kabul

The UN says up to 18 provinces had been affected, including Takhar and Baghlan. Local authorities in the northeastern province of Takhar have asked for tents, blankets, medicine and plastic sheets.

The relief effort is up and running in Kabul and nearby Parwan province. The DDP issued ration cards on Tuesday to affected families in Kabul. Flooding damaged more than 420 houses in the Afghan capital, displacing up to 860 families.

Road access to Parwan from Kabul enabled the government and relief agencies to deliver humanitarian assistance shortly after assessments were conducted on Tuesday.

Abdul Matin Adrak, head of DDP, said in addition to food items, 500 tents, 2,000 blankets and kitchen appliances were distributed to the worst affected families.

In Laghman, an emergency camp has been set up for about 120 affected families in the Sorkhakan district, according to Abdul Wali, a spokesman for the governor, and 90 tents had been provided to displaced families. “Some of the tents have to be shared by two families,” Wali said.

Corsino said that across Afghanistan most displaced families were staying with relatives or friends. He said food aid remained a priority, with the UN Food Agency (WFP) providing 1,000 tonnes of food to 60,000 people across 11 provinces.

Helicopters were being used to deliver aid to inaccessible areas. In central Bamiyan province, two defence ministry helicopters have started distributing non-food items donated by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Afghan Red Crescent Society. A UN mission is due to arrive in Bamiyan on Saturday to assist local authorities in distributing food aid.

Kajaki dam not at risk

The DDP report also warned that high water levels at the Kajaki dam in southern Helmand province could burst the dyke. However, engineering staff attached to a US-based project have told IRIN that there is “no risk of failure”.

Snow-melt water along with recent rainstorms caused the water level to peak at a historic high of 77m, just 2m short of the ‘danger level’ of 79m.

The earth-wall dam, constructed in 1957 and raised in height with Soviet support in the mid-1970s, was built to hold water for irrigation and hydro-electric power generation.

The earlier concerns took into account the possible humanitarian consequences of a catastrophic failure of the dam wall. International experts working with government engineers in Helmand told IRIN that sudden failure could lead to a 25ft wall of water hitting the centre of Sangin within 15 minutes.

However, with the dam’s irrigation gates fully open and water escaping through a spillway, experts said the water level was falling and confirmed that the dam was not at risk.

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