Floods in Afghanistan: Children pulled out of the mud, hundreds killed in severe floods




CNN

Three shocked children sit on the roof of a mosque in northern Afghanistan's Baghlan province, their eyes blinking with mud covering their entire bodies.

Next to them, a rescuer lowers her baby brother, 2-year-old Aryan, onto the roof, a sheet tied around his waist used to pull him out of the rushing floodwaters.

“Here, let's get the rope off his body,” the rescuer says on the video. “Bring her mother in her arms to warm her.”

According to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), in the past few days, floods have killed at least 300 people and injured at least 200 in 18 districts of at least three provinces in northern Afghanistan.

Videos show torrential mudslides washing away mud houses – and people, their limbs aflame, in the fast-moving brown current as rescuers watch from higher ground, out of reach.

The rescued children, aged 3, 5 and 6, were among eight siblings who were at home with their parents in Follo, Baghlan's Balka district, when the floods hit.

Three children, ages 3, 5 and 6, on the roof of a mosque in Baghlan province, Afghanistan, after being rescued from floods and mudslides.

His uncle Barkatullah, son of local school headmaster Haji Wakil Bismillah, told CNN that when a severe storm hit the district and surrounding areas last weekend, everything was shrouded in darkness. Disgusted.

“The visibility was so low that we couldn't even see each other,” he said.

It then began to rain gently during Friday prayers – an unusual occurrence for locals, who say it doesn't often rain this much in the mountainous region, home to about 10,000 people.

As the rain intensified, the situation suddenly “became critical.”

“People fled to higher ground, seeking refuge in the mountains and hills. Unfortunately, some people who were unable to leave their homes succumbed to the floodwaters,” he said.

Aerial photographs show items piled on rooftops in plastic bags, including the bones of women who are forced to cover their entire bodies during the disaster.

“Rescued women are forced to wear mud-soaked clothes, while 2- to 3-month-old babies are also made to wear similarly dirty clothes,” Barkatullah said.

In Folo, more than 100 people are believed to have been killed, he said – mostly women and children.

Some burials began over the weekend, but many are believed to be buried under the mud already.

From drought and famine to floods

According to Timothy Anderson, head of WFP in Afghanistan, the floods washed away livestock and farmland in an area already experiencing severe food shortages.

He said the flood-hit areas were already at risk of food shortages after the extreme heat led to drought.

“It was already serious enough. And now it's devastating,” he told CNN.

Most years, locals expect to see flash floods, he said. But this year, it's been worse.

Anderson said the loss of homes and their land was devastating for the survivors, who were already among the poorest in the country.

He said that when people lose some livestock, that is actually their source of livelihood.

Road access to the worst-affected areas has been cut off by floodwaters, forcing WFP to use donkeys to transport supplies.

Within the first day, WFP had distributed high-energy biscuits and food to the children. They are also supporting local bakeries to provide free bread. In the coming days, teams will begin distributing food to feed families for a month – it's unclear what happens next.

Andersen said 17 joint assessment teams are being sent to the area with other UN partners. He said it would take four or five days for the teams to properly assess the impact of the flood on people and their housing and infrastructure.

Repairing a road damaged by floods in Nahrin district of Baghlan province on May 12, 2024.

The latest natural disaster comes after a drought in Afghanistan, and is seen as an example of a climate crisis that has contributed minimally to global warming.

“They are not net emitters of carbon,” WFP's Anderson said. “It's an agricultural society and society. So, they are bearing the brunt of it, without necessarily contributing much to the problem.

He said that during the recent dry months, efforts were made to help the community capture rain in dams and irrigation canals to sustain crops. Now that those efforts have faded, another challenge has emerged.

The need is not only in Afghanistan but much greater. “The world is seeing the effects of much bigger, more extreme events, whether it's drought, rainstorms,” ​​Anderson said.

Richard Bennett, the UN special representative for human rights in Afghanistan, said the recent floods were “a stark reminder of Afghanistan's vulnerability to the climate crisis.”

And in a statement on Sunday, Teresa Anderson, global climate justice lead at Action Aid International, said: “The climate crisis continues to rear its head.”

“With the latest incident, Afghanistan joins a long list of countries in the Global South struggling with floods this year,” he said.

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