Mudslide Warnings Reach Tajik Villages Too Late

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan, April 13, 2007 (ENS) - The human casualties and economic devastation that Tajikistan routinely suffers from seasonal natural disasters could be reduced if the authorities passed on meteorological warnings to local communities in good time, experts say.

Last week's heavy rain in eastern Tajikistan caused mudslides which destroyed over 1,000 homes and schools and damaged highways and electricity power lines in the Ishkashim district of the Badakhshan region.

Tajikistan is especially prone to natural disasters in the spring, when mountain snows melt and cause mudslides and landslides.

river

Spring melt makes Tajik rivers run fast and full. (Photo courtesy Tajikistan Ministry of Energy)
"The state's financial resources for risk assessment are so inadequate that natural disasters continue to damage residential areas, take human lives, destroy infrastructure and slow the country's economic development even further," said an expert at the government committee for emergencies, who did not want to be named.

Seasonal natural disasters have killed 77 people and caused US$61 million worth of damage in the past two years.

But observers say that even with the limited resources available, local administrations could have worked more closely with local people to reduce the scale of the destruction caused by mudslides that occur on an annual basis and can be predicted.

Bekmurod Mahmadaliev, director of the government's Hydro and Meteorological Institute, says weather forecasters warn the authorities every year that natural disasters are likely.

landslide

Landslide disaster in the Pamir Mountains. October 1990. (Photo courtesy UN University)
"We give the local administration heads in towns and rural districts a forecast of mudslides in the mountains and flooding in river basins. Action should then follow on the ground," he said.

Mahmadaliev believes the authorities are not making enough effort to work with locals, citing the example of people along the Vanch River in the central Pamir mountains who are still building new houses in a high-risk mudslide zone.

"When the Medvezhiy glacier melts, it always causes mudslides," he said. "And although we are aware of the risk of mudslides in the area, we're still building an airport there. That's not to mention the people who rebuild their houses there every time they are destroyed by mudslides. No one wll listen."

Observers say local people are often responsible for their own misfortune by building houses in prohibited zones that lie in the path of mudslides and landslides. Local officials often give people pemission to return to the danger zone after they have been relocated to safer areas.

"Auxiliary canals were dug near [dangerous] rivers in Soviet times, and protected residential areas from disasters," said the expert from the emergencies committee. "But unfortunately, they have now been destroyed, and people have started building houses and cultivating land in their place, which will certainly lead to disaster."

{Published in cooperation with News Briefing Central Asia, an independent network of journalists based in Bishkek. NBCentralAsia is a project of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR.}