Thousands of Afghans Struggle for Survival in the Wake of Deadly Earthquakes
"I lost my entire family here. How can we continue to live in this place?" Mohammad Naeem, a 40-year-old survivor, expresses his sorrow as he sits beside the remains of his house, a place where he tragically lost 12 family members in a series of earthquakes that claimed the lives of at least 1,000 people in western Afghanistan. Mohammad's sentiment resonates with countless Afghans who are grappling with the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck on October 7. They now face a daunting prospect of homelessness as rescuers persist in their efforts to locate survivors. Adding to their woes, another earthquake, measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale, struck western Afghanistan on October 11, causing further casualties.
Hope Amidst Devastation
Despite the grim circumstances, Afghan rescuers and villagers have not given up hope of finding survivors. They continue to sift through the rubble in western Herat province, three days after the region witnessed one of its deadliest earthquakes, claiming over 2,000 lives. In Herat and other affected areas, people are laying their loved ones to rest, digging graves in barren fields to provide a final resting place for those lost in the disaster.
Mir Agha, a resident of Herat, expressed the heart-wrenching reality faced by many, "It is very difficult to find a family member from a destroyed house and a few minutes later bury him or her in a nearby grave, again under the ground." Whole villages now lie in ruins, and survivors are labouring relentlessly to dig trenches for collective burials.
The Extent of the Tragedy
The earthquake's epicentre was approximately 40 kilometres northwest of Herat, the provincial capital, and the aftershocks have continued, causing further panic and displacement. The Zinda Jan district emerged as the worst-affected area, with 1,294 reported deaths and 1,688 injuries. Additionally, 485 individuals, comprising 191 men and 294 women, are still missing. Six schools have been reported destroyed, compounding the catastrophe.
Nearly 2,000 houses across 20 villages have been reduced to rubble, leaving the area with just one government-run hospital. As winter looms, the situation is poised to worsen, with aid organizations cautioning that meeting basic needs such as shelter, food, and medicine will become increasingly challenging.
Slow International Response
International assistance has been slow to arrive, as many nations remain cautious about engaging directly with the Taliban-led government. However, some countries have pledged support, with Pakistan offering blankets, tents, and medicines, and China reportedly providing cash and other forms of humanitarian aid. Other foreign governments have committed to collaborating with local aid agencies to facilitate rescue and recovery efforts. The Afghan people have also launched fundraising campaigns to help their fellow citizens.
It remains unclear how much foreign aid has reached Herat thus far, but the urgency of the situation cannot be overstated. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has implored the media to maintain their focus on Afghanistan and its people. The IFRC emphasizes the importance of not allowing Afghanistan to be forgotten amid ongoing crises.
Local and International Appeals for Aid
In response to the disaster, the Taliban's justice ministry has called on national and international charity foundations, businesses, and Afghan citizens to come together to gather aid for the province. The deputy prime minister for economic affairs, Abdul Ghani Baradar, visited the affected region to oversee the distribution of immediate relief assistance and transparent aid distribution mechanisms. He also appealed to international aid institutions and agencies to provide their support during this profound tragedy.
The international community is stepping in to assist as well, with top U.N. officials visiting the disaster-stricken area. Pakistan has convened a special session to review aid for Afghanistan, including relief teams, food, medicine, tents, and blankets. The International Rescue Committee is deploying emergency response teams to provide humanitarian assistance and aid to help rebuild vital infrastructure that has been destroyed.
Afghanistan has been grappling with a series of disasters, including earthquakes earlier this year, further exacerbating an already dire humanitarian crisis. The most recent 6.3 magnitude earthquake has only compounded the hardships faced by the Afghan people, who are still recovering from the aftermath of the Taliban's return to power. In addition to facing a devastating natural disaster, many homes in rural Afghanistan are structurally vulnerable, making communities susceptible to destruction.
As winter approaches, the survivors of these earthquakes must contend with the elements, homelessness, and ongoing rescue efforts. Despite the immense challenges, hope persists, and the international community is urged to come to their aid and ensure that Afghanistan's suffering is not forgotten.
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