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After Tragedy, Afghans Unite Around Call for Aid

Survivors mourn for their relatives at the site of a landslide in Badakhshan province.
Survivors mourn for their relatives at the site of a landslide in Badakhshan province.
A mudslide that killed hundreds of villagers in a remote corner of Afghanistan has triggered an unprecedented wave of charity among Afghans dependent for generations on international humanitarian aid.

Across Afghanistan citizens are collecting money, food, and clothes for the residents of Aab Bareek, a village in the mountainous northeastern province of Badakhshan, where rains caused a mountain to collapse killing an estimated 2,700 people on May 2.

As the news of the disaster spread, volunteers launched local appeals and set up camps to collect donations for the victims without waiting for the government and the international community to take the lead in providing aid.

Khurasanian Association, a Kabul-based youth organization, was among the first civil society groups to initiate a fundraising campaign.

"The effort shows a sense of unity and harmony among the people of Afghanistan," Asar Hakimi, head of the organization, told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan.

He said the group collected nearly $5,000 in three days to buy food, clothes, and medicines. It is a sizeable sum by Afghan standards in a country where a majority of the population lives in poverty.

Hakimi said that an elderly woman even donated her jewellery, explaining that after decades of fighting and insecurity Afghans are united in helping Badakhshan's residents regardless of religious or ethnic affiliations.

Hafiz Hameem Jalalzai, another volunteer in Kabul, has similar stories. "A woman donated nearly $200 to us this week. She had brought the money to buy food for her family, but instead gave it to us," he said. "People's response has been overwhelming."

Mohammad Sadiq Rishtinai, a Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent, reported that one day after the disaster, members of a youth group in the southern city of Kandahar mounted a loudspeaker atop a pick-up truck and drove around the city's bazaar calling for donations. By evening, they had collected $9,000.

Rishtinai said that local radio and TV stations in Kandahar suspended music broadcasts for several days to express their solidarity with the disaster’s victims.

In the nearby province of Helmand, volunteers collected more than $15,000.

Fazullah Wahidi, governor of the western province of Herat, estimated that approximately $100,000 has been collected in the province. The sum includes contributions from residents and government employees, who donated a part of their salaries.

The Afghan diaspora in the West has also sought to help. Sarrajuddin Isar, a university student in London, launched a fundraising campaign on Facebook.

"Afghans, regardless of which part of Afghanistan they are from, are very keen to help the affected families in Badakhshan," he told Radio Free Afghanistan. "It is a very promising sign of unity."

Isar has raised $6,000 so far from fellow students and Afghans living in Britain.

In Holland, an Afghan diaspora organization called Khorasan Youths has raised nearly $6,000. Ghofran Badakhshani, a member of the group, said that Afghans across Europe are offering cash donations.

"Our people are showing that they don’t have any problem among themselves," he said. "It is only a bunch of politicians who have always been the root cause of problems in Afghanistan."

Daim Kakar, the head of Afghanistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, says that the aid collected by Afghans is a positive development.

His agency is currently advertising a new bank account where individuals and groups can deposit donations for Badakhshan victims.

Days after the disaster, the number of people killed remains uncertain. Residents of Aab Bareek insist that nearly 2,700 people lost their lives, but local authorities and the United Nations estimate the number of fatalities between 300 to 500 people. Some 700 families displaced by the mudslide are living in the open air near the ruined village.

Badakhshan's governor, Shah Waliullah Adeeb, said that the search operation to rescue survivors and retrieve dead bodies cannot continue indefinitely.

"We’ll offer prayers for the dead and make the area a mass grave," he said.