Thursday, June 24, 2010

Killer landslide in Hindu Kush

Gulnesa Beg the only girl to survive a landslide in a village of 750 people in the remote Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan. The  monstrous landslide  killed over 350 residents, mainly women. Gulnesa is with her Father, her only relative to survive. Photo: Bob McKerrow.

On Wednesday 15 June 2010 an earthquake in West Papua, Indonesia, triggered a landslide that engulfed and killed 17 people travelling in a bus. It brought back to mind the worst landslide  I have seen that occured in Afghanistan in 1996. Here are the notes from my diary on that tragic day.

Recently I accompanied Abdul Basir on a difficult field trip to the mountain village of Qarluk in Badakshan. It took us four days to reach this village from Kabul by plane, landcruiser and the last day on foot or horse. The village of 750 people in the remote Hindu Kush had been hit some days before by a monstrous landslide that killed over 350 residents. All except three of the women in the village had been killed, along with a number of children, as they were in their homes while male members of the household were out tending animal and crops. The killer landslide silently swept down the hillside engulfing the whole village. Gulnesa Beg, the only girl to survive, was pick up by a dust and mud cloud, and hurled to safey, breaking her arm as she fell.

As we arrived in Qarluk, the survivors of the landslide, mainly men, were huddled together in an atmosphere of grief and bewilderment. Basir hugged them one by one and then spoke to them with compassion and dignity. He told them that we in the Red Cross Movement were grieving with them and that they must take heart. Basir, in his humble way, gave those men hope at a time when their whole lives had been plunged into darkness and despair.

The men who survived the landslides sit outside their tents. The village covered in mud is the light flatish area to the left of centre in the photo, Photo: Bob McKerrow

The next day, after distributing relief supplies to each surviving family, he mounted a borrowed horse and rode over a high mountain pass to two other villages in the next valley of Teshkan, where 7,000 people were under threat from a tottering mass of rock and mud high above their homes. Basir gave the village leaders support and encouraged them to evacuate immediately. Then he walked two hours along a path on the precipitous mountainside before regaining the track and his horse.
The high Hindu Kush mountains of Badakhshan from Teshkan Pass. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Abdul Bashir (left), Zalmai my interpretor (centre), and village chief (right),  riding over Teshkan Pass in Badkhshan Province in Afghanistan. Photo: Bob McKerrow