Afghanistan floods: Children pulled from the mud as hundreds die in severe floods



CNN

Three stunned children sit on the roof of a mosque in Baghlan province, northern Afghanistan, their eyes shining with the mud covering their entire bodies.

Beside them, a rescuer lowers their two-year-old baby brother, Arian, to the surface, a sheet tied around his waist that was used to pull him from the raging floodwaters below.

The rescuer says in the video: “Take her, let’s remove the rope from his body.” “Bring his mother to hold him in her arms and keep him warm.”

In the past few days, at least 300 people have been killed in floods in 18 districts across at least three provinces in northern Afghanistan, according to the United Nations World Food Programme, and at least 200 others have been injured.

Videos show raging torrents of mud sweeping away mud houses – and people, limbs flying, in the fast-moving brown current, as rescuers watch from high ground, out of reach.

The rescued children, ages 3, 5 and 6, were among eight siblings who were at home with their parents in Follo, in the Bulka district of Baghlan, when the floods struck.

Their uncle Barakatullah, the son of Hajj Wakil Bismillah, the principal of the local school, told CNN that something ominous seemed to be brewing late last week when strong winds swept through the area and neighboring areas, shrouding everything in darkness.

“Visibility was so bad that we couldn’t even see each other,” he said.

He added that the rain began to fall gently during Friday prayers, an unusual event for local residents, who say that rain does not often fall heavily in the mountainous region, which is inhabited by about 10,000 people.

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As the rain increased in intensity, the situation suddenly became “tragic.”

“People fled to higher ground to seek refuge in the mountains and hills. Unfortunately, some individuals who were unable to leave their homes fell victim to the floodwaters.

Aerial photos show possessions piled up in plastic bags on rooftops, including statues of masked women forced to cover their entire bodies even in times of disaster.

“The rescued women are forced to wear mud-soaked clothes, while even infants aged between two and three months wear similar dirty clothes,” Barkatullah said.

He added that more than 100 people were believed to have been killed in Follo, most of them women and children.

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

From drought and hunger to floods

Timothy Anderson, head of the World Food Program in Afghanistan, said the torrent swept away animals and farmland in an area already suffering from severe food shortages.

He said flood-hit areas were already vulnerable to famine after a difficult summer when extreme heat caused drought.

“It was really bleak. Now it’s catastrophic,” he told CNN.

He said that most years local residents expect to see flash floods. But this year, it was much worse.

Anderson said the loss of homes and land had a devastating impact on survivors who were already among the poorest people in the country.

“When people lose a few livestock, that is actually their livelihood,” he said.

Floodwaters cut off roads leading to the worst-hit areas, forcing the World Food Program to use donkeys to send supplies.

On the first day, WFP distributed high-energy biscuits and food to children. They also support local bakeries to provide free bread. In the coming days, teams will begin distributing food to feed families for a month – what will happen after that is unclear.

Anderson said that 17 joint assessment teams have been sent to the region, along with other UN partners. He said it would take four or five days for teams to properly examine the impact of the floods on people, their housing and infrastructure.

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

This latest natural disaster comes after drought in Afghanistan, and is seen as an example of the climate crisis hitting those who have contributed least to rising global temperatures.

“They don’t emit carbon emissions,” said WFP’s Anderson. “This is a community and a subsistence farming community. So, they bear the brunt of that, without necessarily contributing to the issue in a significant way.”

He said that during the recent drought months, efforts were made to help the community capture rainwater in dams and irrigation canals to preserve crops. Now those efforts have dissipated, posing another challenge.

“The need is enormous, and not just in Afghanistan,” Anderson said. “The world is seeing the impacts of larger, more severe events, whether it’s drought or rain-hit hurricanes.”

Richard Bennett, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, said the recent floods “are a stark reminder of Afghanistan’s vulnerability to the climate crisis.”

In a statement issued on Sunday, Theresa Anderson, head of global climate justice at ActionAid International, said: “The climate crisis continues to rear its ugly head.”

“With the latest incident, Afghanistan joins a long list of countries in the Global South suffering from floods this year,” she said.

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