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Preparations under way for possible natural disasters this winter

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KABUL, 5 December 2007 (IRIN) – A national disaster management commission, comprised of several government and non-government organisations (NGOs) in Afghanistan, has allocated US$2.5 million for possible disaster management operations during the winter months.

In addition to this, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has agreed to pre-position about 22,000 metric tonnes of wheat in 18 vulnerable provinces before winter, the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA) said.

“The allocated funds will be used for various purposes such as evacuation, aid delivery, road clearing, conducting rapid assessments, raising public awareness and improving coordination among aid agencies,” Abdul Matin Edrak, head of ANDMA, said in Kabul on 5 December.

Afghan officials say this year they are better prepared to manage winter disasters than last year when flash floods and avalanches killed about 400 people, destroyed about 5,000 houses and affected over 45,000 families between December 2006 and May 2007, ANDMA’s statistics show.

Afghanistan is prone to various natural disasters. Earthquakes are frequent in the northern parts of the country and often trigger devastating landslides. Flooding and mudslides are common, particularly in the spring when the snow starts melting. Extreme winter conditions and avalanches are also a recurrent feature in mountainous areas that make up about 63 percent of the country, according to The Environment Times, a UN Environment Programme (UNEP) publication –   http://www.environmenttimes.net/article.cfm?pageID=135).

“We have preparations for 15,000 families from December 2007 to March 2008,” Edrak said. The prepared aid is made up of both food and non-food items.

Dearth of resources

However, Afghanistan could face a humanitarian crisis if winter disasters affect more than 15,000 families, officials concede.

Due to over two decades of armed conflict and turmoil many communities in the country have lost their resilience and are particularly vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters, experts say.

“We are a war-torn, poor and underdeveloped nation and widely suffer lack of adequate resources to manage and respond to large-scale disasters,” said Ghulam Haidre, chief programme coordinator of social protection at the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development.

The government has not yet paid US$200 per destroyed house and $600 per person killed in flooding and avalanches from December 2006 to May 2007, ANDMA said.

UNDAC recommendations not implemented

A visiting UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team in July 2006 found that Afghanistan’s disaster management system, along with its inadequate resources, was in need of urgent “revitalisation and modernisation”.

The UNDAC mission set out 73 recommendations, among them 29 with only a three-month deadline, to remedy the country’s weak disaster management capacity.

Over a year later, Afghan officials concede there has been a general lack of progress in implementing UNDAC’s recommendations.

“It has been difficult to prioritise disaster management in government policies on the one hand, and to attract donor interest in the building of a strong disaster management capacity on the other,” a senior government official who preferred anonymity told IRIN.

As a result, national and provincial institutional instruments to deal with humanitarian emergencies have remained weak and ineffective, the official added.

Improved coordination

Prolonged needs assessments and weak coordination among various aid agencies were two major challenges which hampered the response during the 2006-2007 flooding and avalanches, ANDMA officials say.

However, thanks to constant interaction, meetings and training, Afghan officials say coordination will be better this winter, at least between UN agencies and government bodies.

“We have reached an agreement with the UN that [post-disaster] rapid assessments should not take more than 48 hours,” said Edrak of ANDMA.

At sub-national level governors will lead provincial emergency and response commissions in all 34 Afghan provinces, and will report, organise and coordinate evacuation and relief operations, the head of ANDMA said.

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Written by afghandevnews

December 7, 2007 at 4:26 pm

Posted in Natural Disasters

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