Afghan authorities seek new homes for landslide refugees

Afghan authorities seek new homes for landslide refugees

AAB BAREEK, Afghanistan - Afghan officials said Monday they plan to build new houses for hundreds of families made homeless by a landslide that entombed a northeastern village and killed at least 300 people. A torrent of mud and rocks swept down a deep valley and levelled the village of Aab Bareek last Friday following heavy rain.

At least 300 people were killed, according to local authorities, who warned that the toll could rise by hundreds more.

Initial reports suggested that as many as 2,500 people may have died in the area, part of the mountainous province of Badakhshan which borders Tajikistan, China and Pakistan.

The landslide left around 700 families homeless, with some finding shelter in neighbouring villages and others sleeping in tents provided by humanitarian organisations.

Abdullah Homayun Dehqan, head of the provincial disaster management authority, said a commission has been set up to look for land to build houses for affected families. "We are in touch with the locals in adjacent villages, the government is even ready to buy land for them so that they can move in," the official said.

Matthew Graydon, an International Organisation for Migration spokesman involved in helping victims, said basic needs in Aab Bareek "have been fairly adequately met".

"Now we're looking more toward long-term solutions. Shelters have been provided... but we need also to look at solutions for finding housing for people," he said.

Presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani visited the scene of the disaster Monday and rival candidate Abdullah Abdullah was due Monday night, officials said.

Ghani, a former finance minister, urged officials to take "immediate action" to boost the distribution of aid and promised to relay the demands of the homeless to local and international organisations and governments.

Afghanistan is in the middle of presidential elections, with former foreign minister Abdullah and Ghani due to compete in a run-off vote on June 7.

Abdullah led the first round but failed to secure the 50 per cent needed to avoid a run-off.

Afghans also used social networks to appeal for relief, with a "Badakhshan Needs You" Facebook page and a Twitter account aimed at fund-raising and providing information on victims.

The landslide, which crushed the mud huts of Aab Bareek, "underscores the need for development policies and projects that are based on thorough research and assessments" in a country where such houses are common, said analyst Bilal Askaryar.

"You can't prevent natural disasters, but you can conduct thorough research to understand the threat and likelihood of a disaster occurring," Askaryar said.

"Once you have that information, you can use it to educate the people at risk, raise awareness about early warning signs, make sure development projects in the area take the risk into consideration, and have a response plan established in advance," he added.

The landslides follow recent severe flooding in other parts of northern Afghanistan, with 159 people dead and 71,000 people affected by floods in Jowzjan, Faryab and Sar-e-Pul provinces.

Flooding and landslides often occur during the spring rainy season in northern Afghanistan, with flimsy mud houses offering little protection against rising water levels and torrents of mud.

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