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Muddy politics obstruct reconstruction

Khushqadam Usmani
Just over a year ago a mudslide destroyed part of the village of Ab-e Barik in Badakhshan, killing more than 2400 people. The government has since pledged to build a new settlement for the displaced victims and for…
6.05.2015  |  Badakhshan
The villagers of Aab-e-barik, destroyed by a mudslide last summer, have been residing in tents despite government promises of permanent shelter. (photo: Khushqadam Usmani)
The villagers of Aab-e-barik, destroyed by a mudslide last summer, have been residing in tents despite government promises of permanent shelter. (photo: Khushqadam Usmani)

Ganjeena Khaal and her six children had gone for a walk when the entire side of a mountain collapsed in Ab-e Barik in Argo district in Badakhshan, wiping out a third of the village and part of Ganjeena's home on May 2, 2014. The mother of six and her husband survived, but at least 2400 people were killed in the mudslide.

What is left of Ganjeena's house is now marked in red – a sign it is situated in the highest risk area in the district for landslides – but she and her family returned to their home nevertheless soon after the natural disaster. Authorities say they have tried to relocate residents in Arb-a Barik living in areas at high risk of mudslides but that they won't move. “We rented houses for 150 families in Fayzabad for the displaced people, but they preferred to live in their own village,” Gul Mohammad Baidar, deputy governor of Badakhshan province, told Afghanistan Today. “We are living in an era of democracy and people can choose where they wish to live.”

But families who returned to their original homes, despite repeated warnings from the local government, say they had no choice. Many stressed that they rely on livestock for their daily survival and the rented spaces offered to them in the city could not accommodate their flocks and herds. Amanudeen, a shepherd, says he was offered 15,000 afghani (approx 250 US dollars) by the provincial government “for rent” but that the money hardly sufficed to buy firewood for the winter.

New city for the dsiplaced

The terms of Concern's and Afghanaid's contract for the Ab-e Barik Shelter project.

The central government responded to earlier criticism of its emergency relief efforts by announcing last year that a new settlement would be built in Argo district for the displaced victims and those living in high risk zones. The governor of Badakhshan and the special representative of the second vice-president of Afghanistan laid the foundation stone for the new town in September 2014 at a lavish ceremony attended by local and national media.

More than 800 units were pledged, with the first 150 set to be completed by the end of last year, each at a cost of more than 5,000 US dollars, according to Engineer Ishaq, chief engineer for the Afghan National Disaster Management Authorities (ANDMA), the coordinating government body. Badakhshan's Deputy Governor Baidar says China will construct 250 units, the Red Crescent 100 and that NGOs and other organisations would fund the rest. The initial 150 units were supposed to have been completed by December 31, 2014, at a cost of 999, 089 US dollars.

The first units are already overdue however because of “early snowfall in winter” according to the project's chief engineer. “The first 150 shelters unit will be finished by May,” says Syad Wais, the head of the Ab-e-Barik Shelter project, adding that most are ready, except for a few interior fittings. But local residents complain that the design of the mud units does not incorporate the needs of local livestock owners. “In our customs we build the interior walls to our house first, second we need place for our cattle and hay, for which we don’t have any money,” says Mulavi Khalil, head of the village council of Ab-e Barik. The village leader says the quality of the doors and windows in the first 150 units is so bad “they won't last six months”.

"Powerful men" stole food

Members of the Ab-e Barik village council say food is not being fairly distributed, even though there are are still supplies in the designated warehouses for aid.

Abdul Qahar, another member of the Ab-e-Barik village council, accuses “powerful men in the district” of having stolen food items that were designated for those affected by the landslides. Qahar says he and a delegation from Ab-e Barik recently traveled to Kabul to take their complaints to the first vice-president. The delegation's accusations of lack of transparency in the Argo project led Lal Mohammad Tashi, the economy and construction advisor to the first vice-president, to visit Badakhshan in February 2015 to conduct an inquiry.

Talking to reporters after his visit to Argo district, Tashi said 10 million afghani (approx 172,000 US dollars) in the Ab-e Barik Shelter project had “been spent on things that it should not have been spent on.” Tashi added that his team, including officials from the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD), the Afghan National Disaster Management Authorities (ANDMA) and the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations (MoRR), found that not more than 2,000 of the 5,247 US dollars allocated for every unit had been spent on each house.

Syad Wais, the manager of the Ab-e Barik Shelter project, admits that some units are sub-standard. “We put the roof of about 20 units on in winter, it was done in haste and so the quality of these units was not up to the mark. We will rebuild them,” says Wais. Badakhshan's deputy governor confirms that the “quality of some of the units is low”. The contract, according to Wais and Baidar, is managed by the international humanitarian relief NGO Concern and monitored and evaluated by the British NGO Afghanaid together with the Norwegian Afghanistan Committee, under the supervision of the ANDMA and the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development. 

Governor: 5000 houses at risk from landslides

The Ab-e Barik Shelter project as of late April 2015.

The Argo district fiasco could be symptomatic of dangers ahead. “There are 5000 houses in high risk areas and they could encounter disaster at any time,” says Shah Waliullah Adeeb the governor of Badakhshan province. “As there is no place to transfer these families to in Badakhshan, the president should consider providing them with plots of land in neighbouring Takhar and Kunduz provinces.” Adeeb says he has filed a motion in parliament advocating such a relocation policy, but that so far it has not been passed.

Those like Ganjeena living in the shadow of the mountain in Ab-e Barik will be hoping the government find a solution soon. Just over one week ago 25 women, 22 children and 5 men were buried under a landslide in Badakhshan's Khawhan district on April 28. “Every night my husband's blood pressure goes up thinking and fearing there will be another landslide,” says Ganjeena Khaal sat in her home in the highest risk area in Ab-e Barik. “We clearly see the cracks in the hill and we die every second, because there is every chance that the hill will slide again,” she told Afghanistan Today.

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