Ali Hakimi, IFRC, northern Afghanistan
An eight-hour drive south from Mazar-e-Sharif, the road winds through steep narrow valleys to the mountain-top villages of Shabashak Bala and Shabashak Paen in Samangan province. These remote villages are located almost at the epicenter of the 5.3 Richter scale earthquake that struck central and Northern provinces of Afghanistan in the early hours of 19 April. Samangan province was hardest hit with several fatalities, many injuries and significant damage to houses and public buildings.
Shabashak Bala and Shabashak Paen were both seriously affected. Several aftershocks combined with snow and rains have created a bigger problem for many of the villagers who have left their damaged houses and sleep outside. One of the local residents, Ghulam Sakhi, describes his living conditions as "absolutely miserable".
“It was midnight when the earthquake happened and the roof of the house collapsed on top of me. I was trapped under the debris but managed to make my way out,” explains Ghulam Sakhi. "Now we have to deal with the next problem - the cold weather. Although it is already spring, up here it is very cold and a few days ago it was snowing. Without shelter it is difficult to protect myself and my family from the cold.”
Red Crescent on the spot
Immediately after the quake, the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) mobilized two disaster response units from Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif. The teams were equipped with new vehicles, allowing them greater mobility and flexibility to address the needs of survivors who are widely dispersed across this remote area. A Red Crescent emergency mobile health unit which was already active in the neighboring province of Saripul was re-deployed to the affected area.
“We are touched by the help provided by the Afghan Red Crescent to these communities. This support is greatly appreciated,” explains Jarollah Mansoori, the Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development who recently visited the area. “Cooperation with the Government has run smoothly and it is good to know that the Red Crescent will remain in the area to make sure that assistance reaches the most vulnerable people,” he added.
An emergency meeting was held in the Mazar-e-Sharif governor’s office where humanitarian organizations were assigned to cover specific areas. Dare Sof Bala and Dare Sof Paen were the two regions allotted to the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS).
Protection against the cold
So far the disaster response units coordinated the distribution of relief supplies to 132 families in Shabashak Bala and Shabashak Paen. This included tents, blankets, kitchen sets, plastic sheets, tarpaulins and jerry cans. Due to the cold weather and harsh conditions a number of people, particularly small children were found to be suffering from various illnesses. “At night these blankets are great against the cold,” says Ghulam Sakhi.
As soon as a distribution is completed and families have loaded up their donkeys for the journey home, the disaster response units leave for their next destination, where more help is needed.