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Afghanistan: Emergencies Taking a Deadly Toll in Badakhshan

Afghanistan’s harshest winter in 15 years leaves families struggling to survive.

A series of recent avalanches have killed more than 90 people in Badakhshan province, an extremely isolated mountain region in northeast Afghanistan.

While relief efforts continue to assist avalanche survivors, snowbound villages throughout the province also desperately need health care and nutrition as their food supplies run low and as increased cases of pneumonia and other illnesses ravage the population.  

In Darang, a village of 400 families situated near the Tajikistan border, 29 children under the age of five have reportedly died in the past month. Medair staff travelled three hours by horseback to reach Darang and found children suffering from acute malnutrition, pneumonia, and other health complications.

Families are running dangerously low on food. In 2011, severe drought led to a poor harvest in the region and with the heavy snowfall and the avalanches this winter, many people have been unable to reach markets or health care facilities.

Darang’s residents have also run out of fodder to feed their livestock, leaving their animals too emaciated to be eaten or sold. Furthermore, Darang, like many other villages in Badakhshan, will soon be at serious risk of landslides and flooding when the heavy snow melts in the spring thaw.

“These recent avalanches have highlighted just how vulnerable village families in Badakhshan are,” said Claire Skinner, Medair Country Director for Afghanistan. “Far too many children are malnourished and families are living on the brink of survival. This harsh winter has pushed many of them beyond their means to cope.”

Since 2010, Medair has run a nutrition programme in parts of Badakhshan that have emergency levels of acute malnutrition, and we intend to extend our activities to reach Darang and numerous other remote villages in 2012. “Treating malnourished women and children is our top priority,” said Claire. “That’s why we are setting up mobile teams who can travel by horse to villages that are too far away to receive help from the existing health centres.”

Providing fodder for livestock is also of high importance. “These animals are the people’s livelihood,” explained Claire. “Families can sell a sheep or a goat and buy a month’s worth of food. If they lose their livestock they won’t be able to buy food to last them to the next harvest.”

Medair is one of the few international humanitarian organisations working in Badakhshan. As a result, we have been involved in coordinating relief efforts in the province. We have prepositioned emergency supplies in the provincial centre and have a team in place to respond to the floods and landslides that are expected to strike village communities in the coming spring months.

While these measures will help survivors of natural disaster deal with their immediate needs, Medair is also calling on the international community to support long-term relief efforts for families in Badakhshan, the country’s most food-insecure province.

Medair’s work in Afghanistan is supported by E.C. Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, Swiss Solidarity, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, the World Food Programme, UNICEF, and private donations.  

Read more about Medair’s work in Afghanistan.

This web update was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.



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