By Gorata Fembo, IFRC
The sound of heavy rain and the frightened screams of young children tore through the night and jolted Shahghul awake from his sleep. It was a wake-up call everyone dreaded.
“By the time I got myself together, part of the house was already submerged,” said Shahghul, who goes by one name. He is a volunteer for the Afghan Red Crescent Society in Band-e Chobee, a village in Karukh district in Herat province.
“The footpaths in my neighborhood disappeared underneath the fast-moving floodwaters.” With the help of two other volunteers, Shahghul managed to rally people together and evacuate them from their homes to higher ground. He was also part of a search and rescue team that helped to retrieve bodies trapped in mud houses.
“This is one of the worst experiences in all the tragedies that have befallen Afghanistan,” said Shahghul, his voice trembling with fear and shock.
Despite risking his life, he is motivated by the desire to help families in need.
“Seeing families in dangerous situations is the driving force behind why I continue to help them. Anyone else in my shoes would have done the same or more. There is just a deep desire to be of service to humanity.”
The flash floods caused 66 deaths, affected more than 281,000 people across nine provinces, and destroyed public facilities like mosques, roads and bridges. This latest disaster came after three years of severe drought, which left more than six million people in Afghanistan facing severe food insecurity, economic hardship, hunger and loss of life. To make matters worse, this extreme weather comes after decades of conflict, a current intensification of fighting and growing insecurity that further hampers people’s access to humanitarian aid and essential services.
In response to the double disaster, Afghan Red Crescent staff and volunteers have been distributing food parcels, blankets, tarpaulins and providing first aid to some of the affected communities. As a local agency, the Red Crescent staff and volunteers are present in every province across the country, with direct access to communities.
Afghan Red Crescent Society Secretary General Dr Nilab Mobarez said, “Even when some international agencies may face security restrictions, the Red Crescent is able to continue bringing help to people in need after the floods and drought. We do this while constantly monitoring the situation to prioritise the safety and security of our staff and volunteers.”
As the water recedes, many people living in the affected areas are worried about the future. With agricultural land and drainage channels damaged, recovery will take months or years. Families face more hunger. And more flooding is forecast, along with an El Nino weather pattern. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), through its emergency appeal, plans to support the Red Crescent to provide immediate emergency help and a longer-term resilience-oriented approach that addresses some of the underlying causes of people’s vulnerability, such as clean water, sanitation and healthcare, agricultural support and cash-based intervention.
“We are fully dependent on livestock and crop production here in Band-e Chobee,” said Shahghul.
“Surely we cannot rely on handouts and support for eternity. My wish is for the Red Crescent to provide me with seedlings so that I can start providing for my family and extend this support to my community.”
The IFRC’s 7 million Swiss franc appeal is 34 per cent covered, with donors including the European Commission Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department (ECHO), the Netherlands Red Cross, Japanese Red Cross Society, Hong Kong Branch of the Red Cross Society of China and Norwegian Red Cross.