Thursday, January 07, 2010

Tajikistan: 6,000 affected by earthquake, cold and fear pulling them together

Source: International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)

by Margarita Plotnikova, IFRC communications manager for Central Asia

Gishkhun is one of 20 villages in the mountains of central Tajikistan that was seriously damaged by a magnitude 5.7 earthquake on 2 January. According to preliminary information, 98 houses have been destroyed, leaving 619 people homeless. An additional 921 houses - homes to 5,526 people - were damaged and need to be repaired. Fortunately there were no casualties – the people were able to leave their houses as they felt the first tremors.

According to seismological data, the epicentre of the quake was 230 kilometres southeast of the Tajik capital Dushanbe, in the Gorny Badakhshan region.

"The damage assessment, rescue efforts and humanitarian support will be complicated by the cold winter in the mountains, the remoteness of the region and by dangerous roads that have been blocked by rock slides," says Shamsudin Muhudinov, disaster management coordinator of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Tajikistan.

Immediate response

Tajik Red Crescent Society staff were sent to all affected villages within 24 hours of the earthquake. In close cooperation with local authorities and the affected communities they have identified the 622 most vulnerable people that urgently need shelter and basic supplies. These include families with many children and people with disabilities.

The winters are very cold in the Gorny Badakhshan region and in Gishkhum everything is covered with snow. "It feels very cold here," says Tojigul Mamadaminova, disaster response coordinator of the regional Red Crescent branch. "And it's scary because we get aftershocks every two to four hours. We've had 68 aftershocks since we arrived on Saturday morning." "Can you hear them?" Tojigul asks over the phone and explains that each tremor is accompanied by rockslides that come crashing down the surrounding mountains.

Cold and scared

The cold and the fear are pulling people together. At the moment, none of the nearly 1,000 inhabitants of Gishkhum dare enter their houses, most of which have visibly cracked walls. "When we are together people do not feel abandoned," says Tojigul.

People have access to food reserves but urgently need warm clothes, water and shelter. "So far we have distributed bed linen and some kitchen utensils that were available at our local warehouse," says Tojigul.

The Red Crescent team in Gishkhum consists of three women and five men, all of whom are skilled in disaster management. Tajigul Mamadaminova has been working with the Tajik Red Crescent since 1996 and is an experienced team leader. She normally lives in Khorog, 171 kilometres away, and currently only keeps in touch with her own family by phone. "We cannot leave these people alone at this time," she explains. Psychosocial support for the affected families has been an essential part of the work.

So far, the Red Crescent team has helped to accommodate 230 people, mainly children, sick and old people, in a recently built quakeproof school. The Tajik Red Crescent is planning to provide tents for the rest as soon as they arrive from the warehouse in Dushanbe. Two trucks with 80 winterized tents, mattresses, blankets, pillows and other relief items are on their way to Gorno Badakhsan – but the trip along 800 kilometres of mountain roads is long and time consuming.

Focus on the 640 most vulnerable people

To help the most vulnerable, the Red Crescent Society of Tajikistan will assist 640 people during the coming four months. Close to 96,000 Swiss francs (92,000 US dollars or 64,000 euro) have been allocated from the IFRC's Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to support the National Society in delivering assistance.

In addition, the Red Crescent Society of Tajikistan is supporting the efforts of the local authorities and other organizations. Since 2002 it has been a member of the Extraordinary Rapid Emergency Assessment and Coordination Team (REACT) in Tajikistan.
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