Rescuers are still working hard on Tuesday. search the rubble of houses devastated by the powerful earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people in western Afghanistan, but the hope of finding survivors is dwindling by the hour.
Equipped with shovels and picks, volunteers have been working tirelessly since the magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck on Saturday, followed by eight aftershocks, in the province of Herat.
Earthquakes are common in Afghanistan, but this is the deadliest to hit the poor country in more than 25 years. New aftershocks were felt Monday in the same area.
“There are families who no longer have anyone alive,” sighs Ali Mohammad, 50, about the village of Nayeb Rafi, which previously housed 2,000 families. “There is no one left, not a woman, not a child, no one.”
In the neighboring village of Siah Ab, collective funerals were held on Monday for around 300 victims from surrounding communities.
Hundreds of bodies, covered with a white sheet, were placed on the ground, during that villagers who had come to pray crossed their arms in prayer.
“I thought I was dreaming, everything was razed,” relates Ismail, 30, who like many Afghans, only wears a name. “There is no one left.”
According to the UN, “100%” of houses were destroyed in 11 villages in the rural district of Zenda Jan, located some 30 kilometers northwest of the city of Herat, capital of the province of the same name.
– “Very bad situation” –
“People are trying to search and get their families out of the debris,” the spokesperson for the Ministry of Environmental Management told reporters on Monday. disasters, Mullah Janan Sayeq, describing a “very bad situation”.
Earthquakes in Afghanistan © AFP – Jonathan WALTER, Valentina BRESCHI, John SAEKI
Local and national authorities have given sometimes contradictory figures on the number of people killed and injured. But the Ministry of Disaster Management put the death toll at 2,053 on Sunday.
“We cannot give exact figures for the dead and injured because it fluctuates,” Mullah Sayeq explained on Monday.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 11,000 people coming from 1,655 families were affected by the earthquake and its aftershocks.
Trucks filled with food, water and blankets reached isolated villages, where blue tents were erected amid the ruins.
The Taliban, who took over power in August 2021, will be faced with a major logistical challenge: rehousing residents as winter approaches.
Residents in the rubble of houses destroyed by an earthquake in Zenda Jan, October 9, 2023 in the province of Herat, Afghanistan © AFP – Mohsen KARIMI
The authorities maintain complicated relationships with international humanitarian organizations.
They have banned women from working for the UN and NGOs, making it difficult to assess the needs of families in the most conservative parts of the country.
– “Unrestricted access” –
Amnesty International has called on the Taliban government to ensure that rescue and humanitarian assistance efforts are carried out “without discrimination” and to guarantee NGOs “secure and unrestricted access” to the affected regions.
Residents pay tribute to the bodies of earthquake victims before a collective funeral, on October 9, 2023 in Zendeh Jan, in Herat province, Afghanistan © AFP – Mohsen KARIMI
“It is crucial that all aid responds to the needs of the most at-risk groups, who often face multiple challenges in crisis situations, including women,” said Zaman Sultani, South Asia researcher. South to Amnesty.
Most rural houses in the country are made of sun-dried mud bricks and wooden support posts. Several generations generally live under the same roof.
Save the Children spoke of “a crisis on top of another crisis”. According to its country director, Arshad Malik, “the extent of the damage is terrifying. The number of people affected by this tragedy is truly overwhelming.”
This new tragedy comes as Afghanistan is already suffering of a serious humanitarian crisis, with the widespread withdrawal of foreign aid since the return to power of the Taliban.
The province of Herat, which has 1.9 million inhabitants according to data from the World Bank, has also been hit for years by a drought which has paralyzed many agricultural communities already prey to countless difficulties.
Afghanistan frequently experiences earthquakes, particularly in the Hindu Kush mountains, close to the junction point between the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.
In June 2022, a 5.9 magnitude earthquake left more than a thousand dead and tens of thousands homeless in the poor province of Paktika (southeast). /p> All reproduction and representation rights reserved. © (2023) Agence France-Presse