Tajikistan: Recovering from mudslides and floods

Source: International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)

Date: 15 Jul 2009

By Assel Tastanova and Saydo Nazarov in Tajikistan

The tent camp set up in Khuroson, in south-east Tajikistan, is full of life as villagers struggle to recover after their homes were buried under a metre-thick layer of mud earlier this year. Khuroson was the district most severely hit by devastating floods and mudslides caused by heavy rains last spring.

Saiffidin Sabirov, 60, and his family lost their house and all their possessions. "I remember the heavy, grey slush sliding slowly down the slope towards our village," he recalls. "There was no way to stop the grey crawling giant."

The villagers barely had time to escape and had to leave behind most of their possessions. "Together with my sons we moved the family to a safer place up on the hills and then returned to help our neighbours. The mudslide continued until 4:00 am the following day. In the morning light we saw how our homes had disappeared under tonnes of water mixed with clay. I lost my cow, lambs, goats, and all the poultry everything," he says sadly.

Heavy rains and mudslides

For more than a month, dozens of villages across Tajikistan were exposed to the heavy rains and mudslides and were unable to protect themselves. Normally, kishlaks (villages) at the bottom of hills are protected by diversion channels, but these were overwhelmed after nearly a month of rains and the mudflow burst their banks.

Nearly 200 houses were swept away and 435 were badly damaged in Khuroson and Panj districts alone. Some 4,000 people in Tajikistan lost their homes, property and livestock.

The water undermined the structure of most of the traditional clay houses. The mudflow overran roads, gardens and homes, posing a serious threat to sanitary conditions in the villages and heightening the risk of disease. As local water systems in many kishlaks depend on paid water that is trucked in, the huge water needs for construction, cleaning and rehabilitation have become an additional financial burden for the local communities.

Disaster preparedness

The Red Crescent Society of Tajikistan, together with local authorities and the ministry of emergencies, was the first to help Saiffidin and other families, immediately releasing 135 tents from its disaster preparedness stocks and setting them up in the area allocated for new settlements. More than 530 families were accommodated in the camps. The Red Crescent also provided blankets, plastic sheeting and hygiene articles for the affected families, while local authorities provided food.

Saiffidin is living in a big tent with his family of nine. He and his sons have begun building their new house, which they plan to finish this summer. He believes the new houses are located in a safer place and will be more resistant to future disasters.

Local authorities, UN agencies and other organizations are assisting them with the construction, and in addition, private businesses and neighbours also help by providing building materials. The Red Crescent provided them with spades, hoes, nails, buckets and other tools. Villagers are collecting money and food to support their neighbours living in the tent camp.

Returns to normal

"Some people have just returned from working abroad and have shared their income with us. It will take time before our life returns to normal, but we do not feel alone," Saiffidin remarks gratefully. However, there is still a shortage of construction materials. Like others, Saiffidin returns to the disaster site to collect wood boards and bars, as well as clay to make new bricks.

Sirodj Imomov, a disaster management coordinator in the Tajikistan Red Crescent branch in the Kurgantube region, is helping with the construction of a new village in Khuroson. His disaster preparedness team is one of eleven specially-trained teams which are operational across the country. In January 2007, with financial support from the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), Tajikistan Red Crescent developed a national contingency plan, which includes pre-positioning relief stocks in strategic locations, and extensive training for disaster response teams. Today these teams are positioned around the country, with the capacity to reach a disaster site within three hours of the event.

Every year, Tajikistan, which is situated at the foothills of the Pamir mountains, experiences up to 50 natural disasters, such as earthquakes, mud and landslides, floods, droughts or cold waves.

"We do not act alone. Previous experience has taught us how important it is to engage the local population, particularly in mitigation and restoration work," explains Sirodj. "In recent years, as part of our disaster preparedness plan, we trained local teams of Red Crescent volunteers. This time, working together with the Khurson local committee, we assessed the situation and provided medical assistance, primarily for people who were in shock, in deep depression, or had fainting spells. This pattern was developed long before the disaster. It helped to save lives and mobilize local resources," he adds.

Operating in the framework of the regional contingency plan adopted in 2007 by the five Central Asian countries, additional support arrived in June, in the form of two teams of Red Crescent disaster response experts from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. They helped the Tajikistan Red Crescent conduct assessments and coordinate assistance to remote villages hit by severe floods and mudslides.

At the request of the Tajikistan Red Crescent, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) released emergency funds to provide immediate assistance to some 2,000 people. That was followed by an emergency appeal in May seeking nearly 900,000 Swiss francs (801,000 US dollars/590,000 euro) to provide relief and shelter items to some 4,320 beneficiaries (726 families) for six months.

To date, contributions have been received from the governments and Red Cross Societies of Canada, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands and Norway, as well as from the Turkish Red Crescent Society. The appeal is 55% covered so far.