Saturday, 12 September 2015

Natural disasters in Tajikistan

Published in Field Reports

By Kirgizbek Kanunov (09/02/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)

This summer, the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) faced the brunt of a natural disaster which neither regional authorities, nor the central government in Dushanbe were prepared to handle. The months of July and August were particularly difficult for this part of eastern Tajikistan, which already struggles with a number of socio-economic issues such as unemployment, job-related emigration, endemic corruption and drug addiction. 

As a result of the high temperatures in Tajikistan over the summer, particularly in mountainous areas where the rapid melting of glaciers triggered mudflows, local communities in GBAO have faced unprecedented hardship.

The first areas affected were the villages of Barsem and Kolkhozabad of the Shugnan District of eastern GBAO. Some 70 houses were partially or completely destroyed, roads washed away and power lines covered by the water. The mudflows caused considerable damage to buildings and infrastructure in these villages.

As reported on July 18, 2015, by the UN’s Rapid Emergency Assessment and Coordination Team (REACT) in Tajikistan, at least 56 houses were destroyed and 10,000 people forced to evacuate to safer sites. Schools, stores, roads and electricity lines have also been damaged, and 80% of the communities in the region were left without electricity for almost 4 days.

Later that month, the geography of the natural disaster has expanded, now including the areas of Barrushan, Bartang and Vanj in GBAO as well as other parts of Tajikistan, with many casualties reported.

On July 21, Asia-Plus news website reported  three people killed and two other missing following a landslide in the Vanj district. According to CA-News, more than sixty homes have also been either partially or totally destroyed in the Rasht region, around 200 kilometers east of Dushanbe. According to Tajikistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the preliminary damage caused by the floods incurred damages of about US$ 100 million.

A coordination unit was set up in Khorog (GBAO’s capital) between the Focus Humanitarian Assistance Program, an affiliate of the Aga Khan Development Network, local government bodies and other local and international interested parties. Besides official institutions, the entire population of Khorog was involved in providing assistance to affected areas. Local volunteers in coordination with other parties have provided food, water and other necessities for the people who were evacuated to the temporary tented camps.

Tajik citizens and nationals of other counties also offered assistance. Funds were raised in several countries and sent to specially designated bank accounts in Khorog, which were then distributed according to need by appointed organizations. In Dushanbe, collection points for humanitarian assistance were set up to which ordinary Tajik citizens brought items to be sent to GBAO and other places.

Last week, the EU allocated humanitarian assistance worth 380,000 Tajik Somoni (about 56,000 Euros) to the disaster affected residents of GBAO and the Rasht valley. As reported by the news portal Ozodagon, the EU in Tajikistan made these funds available at the request of the Red Crescent Society of Tajikistan. 105 families in GBAO and Rasht will be provided with tents and amenities for families, including mattresses, pillows, buckets, shovels, and medical equipment.

As of August 22, the mudslides had affected 929 (in a total population not exceeding a few hundred thousand) families in GBAO and Rasht. These families still do not have access to drinking water and electricity. In addition, roads, bridges, canals and other infrastructure were severely destroyed.

According to some observers, local authorities could have taken timely action to mitigate the negative effects of the disaster. In particular, local residents in GBAO say that if the Ministry of Emergency Situations (MES) had eliminated congestion on the Gund river, the scale of the flooding would have been reduced significantly. However, according to witnesses, the ministry’s specialists did not have the necessary materials (explosives) to eliminate the congestion.

Nevertheless, the government and its supporters have sought to gain politically from these events, propagating the government’s assistance to affected residents. This primarily concerns the GBAO – a region with a significant anti-government opposition. At the same time, Tajikistan’s government, which in recent years has experienced serious financial problems, used this opportunity to raise funds from international donors. On July 21, the government once again appealed to the international community for help. Even neighboring Kyrgyzstan, with a similarly weak economy has provided assistance to Tajikistan. Meanwhile, local residents, taking into account the reputation of Tajik authorities, have expressed doubts about the targeted spending of these funds. For example, the Global Fund has previously accused the Tajik government of forgery.

Yet President Emomali Rahmon’s visit to the affected areas, where he promised substantial assistance, allowed pro-government forces to strengthen their authority.

At the same time, local residents noted that the president’s visit to GBAO, and especially to Khorog, occurred under unprecedented security measures, with the area being virtually overrun by armed men who paralyzed life in the region. The authorities are perhaps not entirely convinced by their slogans about the nation’s love for its president, and see the disaster in political rather than humanitarian terms. 

Image attribution: Wikimedia Commons

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