The devastation of a 5.9 magnitude earthquake which tore through the remote areas of the Paktika and Khost provinces of Afghanistan on Wednesday night is only just beginning to be understood. Figures released by officials today suggest that at least 1,000 people have been killed by the quake, while another 1,600 injured but those numbers are expected to increase over the coming days.
The Gayan district is 70 kilometers away from the center of Paktika with no asphalted roads, left easily damaged by the force of the earthquake. Most of the wounded have been transferred to Kabul by helicopter but the demand remains high. Some people have criticised the Taliban government for their handling of the crisis - they sent helicopters to the Balkhab district of Sarpul to fight with a former Taliban leader Mawlavi Mahdi instead of rescuing people in Paktika.
People in Afghanistan have been affected in different ways. Jumadin Gyanwal, former Senator and community elder, has lost 23 members of his family. Family members lived in the Khanaddin village of Gayan district in Paktika province and ranged between 2-50 years old including his brothers, nieces, nephews, sister in laws and cousins.
Jumadin has been living in Kabul and the village with his family. This disaster has shocked him and all the houses they once had in his village have been destroyed.
“People from other districts like Urgun and other volunteers from neighbourhood districts arrived and helped the people before the aid organization got to their village. All my family members have since been buried by the people of that area,” said Jumadin.
“The houses were destroyed, and they are in remote areas so people cannot live there again. The earthquake happened at 1:30 am and people from the village called him and informed about the accident. We left Kabul and arrived at 10:00 in Gayan and went to the area to help and rescue the people, but saw all my family members had been killed” added Jumadin.
People across the south-eastern region of Afghanistan where the earthquake hit (which borders Pakistan) have been deprived of basic life services. Before the Taliban took over, the area was not secure. Now, it even less so. There are no asphalted roads, only six high schools for the entire region and one health clinic that is not well equipped. People in this area are poor and survive through their farms, agriculture, and livelihoods. A United States Geological survey has found that the earthquake had a reach of about six miles. There are aid organizations that are currently trying to cope with this crisis.
“The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has sent medical supplies to the hospitals in the areas affected by the earthquake (Paktika Provincial Hospital, Urgon District Hospital and Paktia Regional Hospital) to help the medical team address the immediate needs, which are likely to increase in the coming hours and days” said Anita Dullard, a spokesperson fo the ICRC.
The Afghan Red Crescent team and volunteers have also arrived in the area to support people, many people from different parts of the country trying to fundraise for the affected people.
“The Afghanistan Red Crescent society (ARCS) has already deployed emergency response on the ground and is assessing the needs of the communities affected. ARCS teams are transferring blankets, tents, kitchen utensils, medicine, water bottles, and food items to the earthquake areas of Khost and Paktika provinces from their warehouses in Kabul” added Anita Dullard.
The transferring of patients and wounded is still a big challenge and the ICRC says, “first patients have been arriving and treated at the ICRC supported hospital in Ghazni. Due to the difficulties related to the movements in the rural earthquake-affected areas, people in need of medical assistance are likely to take hours to days to reach the main healthcare structures in their provinces.”
Unfortunately, it is not only the earthquake that is affecting people in Afghanistan; huge poverty and a lack of job opportunities are also intense problems people are dealing with. Climate change is also one of the big challenges they are facing - but as they have survived amid war and conflict, they forget about or have no sense of changes in climate. But the evidence is hard to ignore.
In addition to the earthquake in Khost and Paktika, floods in the Kunar province have recently killed cattle and eight thousand goats in one of the districts in Kunar. This comes only a week before the Eid Adha where the Muslim community around the world sacrifice animals as part of their religious ceremonies. Nine civilians have also been killed in the Sawkay district of Kunar due to the floods with at least thirty homes sustaining damage.
Also this week, the Bamyan province witnessed snow during the summer season, which is rare and hasn’t happened in decades while in other parts of the country there was huge rain and dew that affected the agricultural farms. It was a shock for the people whose farms have already been destroyed in Bamyan province too so the earthquake was yet another challenge people faced there.
“The earthquake comes on top of an already desperate situation for many people. The combined effects of drought, decades of war, and economic crisis is causing huge poverty and having a devastating effect on millions of people. The drought has a huge impact on many farmers who rely on agriculture for income and to feed their families.
In addition to this, food prices have increased across the country. Basic food items such as rice, imported wheat flour, and vegetable oil are available in the market. However, the loss or erosion of wages by inflation, and pre-existing extreme poverty make those items unaffordable for many families” added Anita Dullard.
The Afghan Red Crescent has 20 mobile health teams to evacuate people, but they are facing some challenges too. Erfan Sharafzoi, spokesperson for the Afghan Red Crescent says, “more medicine is needed. The facilities are limited and low and the needs are high. We call on the international community to provide medical and medical assistance first and foremost, as well as food and non-food items. The need is overwhelming.”
"The challenges ahead are significant and will require more patience. But we must endure. It's the least that the Afghan people deserve. We continue to believe it's the only way forward for their benefit and the benefit of the international community” said Ramiz Alakbarov UN Secretary General's Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan.