Tajiks Call for Disaster Relief - People displaced by flooding say help not reaching them fast enough.
June 3, 2010 - Biloli Shams
As the Tajik government asks the international community for emergency funding following flash floods and mudflows in the south of the country, people affected by the disaster say help is chaotic and slow in coming.
The Rapid Emergency Assessment and Coordination Team, REACT, a coalition of government agencies and international relief organizations, said 16 people died when torrential rains caused a mudflow and flooding along the river Tebalay in and around the town of Kulob on May 7.
REACT’s figure, published in a May 10 situation report, was slightly higher than the 13 deaths reported by Sukhrobshohi Farrukhshoh, a spokesman for the Kulob mayor’s office.
The emergency response centre in Kulob said 600 homes were completely destroyed. Other reports indicated that many more were damaged, and thousands of people in the surrounding countryside lost livestock and crops buried under the mud.
Tajikistan’s permanent representative at the United Nations, Sirojiddin Aslov, submitted a formal request for assistance on May 14, two days after his government issued a general appeal for 5.3 million US dollars in relief aid.
In a statement on the flooding on May 19, REACT said two tent camps had been set up in Kulob within a week of the disaster, and relief items distributed to those who moved there.
However, some of the people affected complained of delays in handing out humanitarian aid, and told IWPR the effort was not being coordinated properly.
Three of Bozorgul Qurbonova’s five children died in the mudflow – boys aged seven and five years and a seven-month-old baby.
Now, she said, “The distribution of food and tents is chaotic. Some of the families who suffered the most don’t have tents yet, and they haven’t had either flour or foodstuffs, just two or three cushions and blankets.”
Like many households in this part of Tajikistan, an extended family of around 30 people lived under one roof. But they have been given just one tent, which can accommodate a maximum of ten.
“They’re promising us a tent. We are waiting, and as you can see it’s raining. My two other children have high temperatures that aren’t going down,” she said.
Journalist Rajabi Mirzo visited the area and reported that aid distribution was slow.
“They say the lists of people affected aren’t ready yet. But that’s not the fault of the people who need help right now,” he said.
Khalil Nasrulloev, 80, whose house was completely destroyed, said the aid effort had not reached him yet.
“We were visited by the [relief] commission only once, but apart from two quilts, we haven’t been given any help. Every day they bring in aid and distribute food and flour, but nothing is given to us,” he said.
Nasrulloev said the explanation he was given was that the road to the area where he lives had not been repaired yet.
Farrukhshoh of the mayor’s office accepted that there had been difficulties in getting aid through because roads had been destroyed. But he told IWPR, “Since May 13 we’ve started regulating the help we’re giving to all the residents affected, so that humanitarian aid, tents and other kinds of relief are delivered to all.”
Some residents said that if they had been given adequate warning, lives would have been saved. One female resident said the Kulob branch of the emergency response ministry should have contacted colleagues in the neighbouring Shurabad and Muminabad districts, through which the mudflow passed first, to assess how serious the situation was.
The head of the government’s emergency response agency for Khatlon region, Abdusattor Khushvakhtov, said it had been impossible to give advance warning as the local branches of his organisation were understaffed and underequipped. They only had one staff member in Shurabad and Muminabad, who had no way of communicating.
“The national Committee for Emergency Situations still hasn’t bought phones or hand-held radios to give to our staff,” he said. “That was the main reason why our staff in Muminabad and Shurabad were unable to call their colleagues in Kulob and update them.”
Others felt the disaster was just waiting to happen, as the bed of the river Tebalay, especially where it runs through the town of Kulob in the form of a canal, had not been dredged for years.
An elderly man who gave his name as Sadullo said that since Tajikistan became independent in 1991, no work had been done to clear out the sediment and debris carried down the river in previous mudflows.
Rahmatullo Karimov, head of the irrigation repair section at Tajikistan’s land improvement and water management ministry, accepts that the river, which forms a canal as it flows through Kulob town, has not been cleared properly, and said this was due to lack of funding.
“Since the Soviet Union collapsed, the money hasn’t been allocated in nearly 19 years,” he said. “It’s clear that if this structure [Tebalay riverbed] had been cleared even once over that period, the population of these streets in the town wouldn’t have suffered. Another reason is the lack of modern machinery. We have machinery, but not much of it, and most of it dates from Soviet times and isn’t fit for use.”
Safarmad Valiev, who heads a private construction company, agrees that canal dredging has been inadequate, but argues that even if it had been done, it would not have reduced the damage caused by the flooding.
The Tebalay canal section is too narrow to cope with a surge in the water flow, and would need to be widened to allow this, he said.
Biloli Shams is an IWPR-trained journalist in southern Tajikistan.
This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway.
The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway.