Photo via IOM Afghanistan

Afghanistan Earthquake Leaves Over 2,000 Dead and Wounded

Casualties from the powerful earthquake that struck western Afghanistan on Saturday have risen to at least 2,053 dead and wounded, according to the latest figures released by the Taliban authorities. In an initial assessment, the Afghan Red Crescent Society reported 400 deaths. The death toll is feared to be even higher as rescue teams continue to reach civilians buried under the ruins.

Lack of access to information and the Taliban’s restrictions on free media have proven reporting the true magnitude of the disaster challenging as local sources struggle to corroborate figures and verify information.

The 6.3 magnitude quakes hit 35 km northwest of the Herat province, affecting at least 12 villages in several districts, according to the U.N. World Health Organization. Local sources report that these villages are nearly fully buried under the earth. Hundreds of dead bodies as well as injured people, among them women and children, were moved to hospitals across the province which has some 202 public health facilities, including one regional hospital, where most casualties were taken.

Many residents spent last night on the streets and public parks, fearing aftershocks. WHO said the initial earthquake was followed by at least eight strong aftershocks measuring magnitudes of 5.5, 6.3, and 5.9 degrees. Tremors were also felt in neighboring Badghis and Farah provinces.

Telecommunication has been disrupted across Herat throughout Saturday. Videos and photos on social media show massive heaps of debris after mud-brick homes flattened in places such as the Zindajan district where the main reverberation began. People gathered in mass on the streets for safety.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that Mahal Wadakah village in Zindajan was the worst affected among several others including Dasht Hows, Bahadorzai, Zoryan, and Koshkak. Aid agencies have deployed medical support to hospitals and emergency supplies, including food and non-food items, to the affected villages. But the demand is said to be much higher. The ruling Taliban says it has allocated 100 million Afghanis to address the disaster and called on private businesses and investors to chip in.

“Humanitarian partners are coordinating with the de-facto authorities, including the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority, the Department of Refugees and Repatriation, and the Herat Provincial Governor, with five emergency assessment teams deployed by IOM, DRC, WFP-RRAA, ARRA, IRC and HELP Germany as part of the initial response,” OCHA said in a statement.

Affected people receiving emergency aid assistance. Photo via IOM Afghanistan.

Messages of condolences and support poured in online including from Western governments such as Norway and Denmark. Japan’s Ambassador, Takashi Okada, who is one of the few foreign diplomats in Kabul also sent out his sympathy. Richard Bennett, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Afghanistan, whose reports have raised alarms about the deepening human rights and humanitarian crisis, also wished well for the rescue and aid workers to help the affected communities.

Afghanistan’s citizens across the world rushed to organize fundraising campaigns and donation pages to help the survivors. Cricketer Rashid Khan, one of the country’s most renowned athletes globally, said he would donate all of his World Cup fees to help the earthquake-affected people.

The recent earthquake disaster portrays the unending suffering of the country’s vulnerable population since the Taliban’s takeover two years ago. In recent weeks, the worsening situation for millions of refugees from Afghanistan in the neighboring Iran and Pakistan who have vowed to deport them preoccupied much of the social media.

According to the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Afghanistan is one of the most seismically active regions in the world, making it prone to earthquake disasters. Over the past decade, more than 7,000 people have been killed in earthquakes in Afghanistan. In June last year, a magnitude 6 earthquake devastated the eastern provinces of Paktika and Khost, killing more than 1,050 and injuring 3,000 more. Three weeks later, a 5.1 Richter degree aftershock again the region.

The country is struggling with the world’s worst humanitarian crisis amid shrinking international aid commitments. The UN and other aid agencies have said that the upcoming winter could push millions to the brink as they fail to raise enough resources to offer life-saving assistance. Poverty is sweeping and the country’s healthcare system, nearly fully reliant on humanitarian aid, is on the brink of collapse.

It is not clear how much recovery efforts would cost and how long it would take. The ruling authorities are yet to announce a full-scale plan. Its desert-like weather conditions make Herat known for its harsh winters. That could further complicate the recovery process in the coming months.