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In eastern Afghanistan, flooding hits home

By Iqbal Sapand, NBC News

KABUL, Afghanistan – I watched the harrowing images of Pakistan on the evening news the other night – roads destroyed, millions of people who lost their houses and loved ones, helicopters distributing food and first-aid kits and evacuating those affected by the flood to safe locations.

I went to sleep feeling sad. Pakistan is our neighbor, after all, and we share similar culture and language. It's easy to imagine a similar disaster happening right here in eastern Afghanistan, I thought.

Iqbal Sapand/NBC News

Towns in eastern Afghanistan's Logar Province have been ravaged by extreme flooding in recent weeks.

Then, at 2 a.m. Saturday night, my cell phone rang.

"Iqbal, for God’s sake, please call somebody to help us!" shouted Ahmad Munner, a friend from my home village of Mohamad Agha.

When I first heard Ahmad’s cries for help, I was shocked and thought maybe the Taliban had captured our village. Two American soldiers were recently killed nearby and Taliban activities have recently increased around my home in Logar province. But that was not what Ahmad was calling about.

"What happened?" I asked Munner.

"The flood destroyed most houses here," he said. "I was able to take my children out to the mountainside and now I’m returning to help other villagers. Please, call the governor or police chief to help us. We don’t have shelters!"

I managed to get through to Mohamad Jan, a police commander in our province. He told me the situation was horrible.

"I brought a few policemen and three 4x4 pick-up vehicles to transport children, women and the elderly to a safe place," Jan said. "Most houses are under water. I can hardly help people."

The next morning I took my car and drove to my village in Mohamed Agha district to see the situation first-hand.

After the hour-long drive, I came up on a scene that reminded me of the decade-long war between the Soviet Union and the mujahideen opposition forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s. This time, flooding had destroyed three quarters of the houses. Wooden and mud walls had collapsed. Mattresses and carpets were strewn over walls. Most people had no clean drinking water because the wells were full of mud and dirt.

'I have no other options!'
I started talking to Shawali Khan, a 75-year old man who leaned against a tree as he looked out at the destruction.

"I lost my house," he said. "It rained for one hour and a huge flood destroyed it. I was barely able to take my family out. How can I rebuild this up? I have no other options!"

Iqbal Sapand/NBC News

Ruins are all that are left of Shawali Khan's house that was destroyed in the recent flooding.

As a farmer, Khan lost not only his house but also his harvest. The governor of the province, Attiq Ludin, spoke to me by phone about his efforts to help those affected by what many have called the worst natural disaster to hit the area in 100 years.

"We did our best to transport people from their villages to safer places," Ludin told me. "I asked the central government to provide them with tents and food. More than 100 houses have been destroyed, some people are injured but luckily no one died. We are facing a shortage of tents and food, and we don’t have enough to distribute to those affected by the flood."

Although the destruction in eastern Afghanistan is not on the scale of what we are seeing from Pakistan every day, it is always hard when it hits home. For many in the area, it took years to rebuild their homes and livelihoods following the destruction caused by the decades of war in Afghanistan. Now they need to start rebuilding all over again.

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