ASIA-PACIFIC feature story for Afghanistan

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2009/Sadiq

Maliha, whose house was destroyed by flooding, sits outside her new home near Mazar-e-Sharif. The rapid response by UNICEF and partners was crucial to helping her family rebuild, and for Maliha to resume her studies.


MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan, June 2009 - “All our belongings have been washed away during the floods,” says Karima, a 35-year-old widow with four children to support.

“For 20 years my family and I have been living in the same house in Yoolmarab,” she continues.  Yoolmarab is a village situated 10 kilometres south of Mazar-e-Sharif in the northern region of the country. “It was everything we had,” Karima recalls with nostalgia. “When the water entered our home, I rushed the kids outside shouting for help. But nobody could do anything.”

Karima worried about how she and her children would survive this disaster. After her husband died in 1998 as a result of the armed conflict in the area, Karima has had to wander from house-to-house seeking work like washing clothes to support her family.

Fortunately, UNICEF and its partners arrived with assistance within the first 24 hours after the flash floods, which destroyed a large number of houses and social infrastructure. Together with the Afghan National Disaster Management Authority, other United Nations agencies and NGO partners, UNICEF ensured children and women and their families received initial response items such as family-size emergency kits, drinking water and high-protein biscuits. Alongside a basic food distribution by the World Food Programme, UNICEF also delivered plastic sheeting to accommodate especially vulnerable persons and single-headed households like Karima’s.

UNICEF as co-leader of the Education Cluster together with Save the Children and the Afghan Department of Education also made sure within one week of the disaster that Karima’s children and their peers could continue their classes by making available tents for temporary accommodation as classrooms and teaching and learning materials. It also allowed the children to continue the school year without interruption and have a sense of normalcy in the midst of chaos.

Working together, UNICEF and its partners under the leadership of the Government of Afghanistan helped prevent more deaths and physical or psychosocial distress in Yoolmarab village.  This rapid joint response also allowed residents in the affected area to stay on their land and rebuild their homes and livelihoods in a familiar environment.

Not all disaster-prone areas in Afghanistan are so lucky.  Earthquakes and floods often repeatedly strike in areas with armed conflict and where there are insufficient resources for emergency preparedness and response, resulting in never-ending emergency conditions. This situation also forces residential populations to flee, creating political instability and increasing the vulnerability of women and children.

Six months after the damaging floods in her village, Karima and her three sons and daughter smile again. They have rebuilt their home and the eldest son graduated from secondary school. They had the strength to pull themselves out of the water – with the helping hands of UNICEF and its partners.