In May of this year our PARSA team traveled to Ab Barak in Argo District of Badakhshan province in response to the landslide disaster that buried parts of three villages and killed hundreds of people. Usually PARSA does not partake in emergency relief, but in this case we received specific requests for psychosocial care, particularly for the children orphaned by the landslide. Our team – Yasin, Norm, Reese, and myself – made the fourteen-hour trip and found the situation in chaos. The problem was not too little help, it was too much.
The “Argo Landslide” media hype – with its exaggerated death toll of 3000 people and hundreds of homes destroyed – had gained so much international attention that every aid organization, plus government officials, individual do-gooders, and of course vote-seeking representatives of the dueling Ghani-Abdullah election standoff, had showed up to offer help (and benefit from the media attention). The provincial government received more aid money in a few weeks than it had in total in the last decade. People were handing out all sorts of short term aid packages – from bags of rice to winter clothes, meals paid for by then-presidential-candidate Abdullah were being cooked in large pots and handed out to dueling villagers among the flash of media cameras, tents were set up for the village children to get some normalcy and not miss out on school, there were even individuals handing out 500afs (10 USD) bank notes to mobbing crowds that then needed to be dispersed by firing warning shots with AK47s.
As far as we found, the psychosocial needs of the most vulnerable of the population were being taken care of at the time, the orphaned children had been absorbed into the homes of the survivors, and the immediate needs of the people were being met. Everyone was throwing around long-term promises of relocating and rebuilding the village, and of taking preventative measures to relocate homes in line of future landslides. We decided we would come back after the hype died down and see what promises had been kept.
Back to Argo
Our PARSA team is now back in Badakhshan making long term plans for our programs here. We are checking in with our Scout Troop in the Faizabad government-run orphanage and making adjustments so that the Scouts here will be more effective, plus taking notes on how the orphanage needs to be improved to meet government standards. Dawn is investigating potential women’s products for our Trade Afghan program. We are all looking for stories unique to Badakhshan for Voice of Afghan Youth. And today our Argo team headed back to Ab Barak to check on the village and see if the promises had been kept.
The answer is a big no. The principal change we saw is that some loads of bricks have been delivered, supposedly to the area where the villages are meant to be relocated to, and a few house foundations have been built. Almost all the UNHCR tents are gone, the villagers say no media or trucks full of handouts have shown up in months, and signs of the millions of dollars that the Badakhshan government received for rebuilding are nowhere to be found. Not to mention that the disaster early in the year meant that the farmers were not able to produce their regular stores of crops and firewood, leaving the entire village in short supply for the coming winter.
Whereas on our last visit the villagers seemed tired of outsiders’ intrusions, this time they were extremely welcoming. They told us they had not had anyone check progress for months, and although they were aware of the government’s promises and money allocated to helping them, their district representatives all live in Kabul and have done nothing to demand their rights. They thanked us repeatedly for coming, offered us tea and lunch, and asked us to help them find ways to build the promised houses and bring in firewood before the freezing winter sets in completely.
What we have garnered from today is that there are two things PARSA can do to intervene in Argo. The first is to find the organizations and government officials who made promises to rebuild and help the villagers get through their first post-disaster winter and hold them responsible; the second is to launch a long term economic program for the region that will give the people a new skill and will have the potential to reduce the poverty of the village in the long run. In the coming days we will be contacting other organizations that operate in the region to see how we can best approach these two objectives. The situation in Argo is just as heartbreaking today as it was back in May, and PARSA is renewing our commitment to assisting the people there.
Check out our Argo Relief Blogs from our first trip to Ab Barak here: afghanistan-parsa.org/2014/05/10/argo-relief-day-1-roadtrip/