International aid groups in Afghanistan are scrambling to send help to survivors of this weekend’s earthquake in the west of the country which left more than 2,000 people dead and many more injured in a war-ravaged nation already stricken by an economic crisis.
The 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck on Saturday 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Herat city in the western Herat province – the third largest in Afghanistan. It was one of the deadliest quakes to hit Afghanistan in years.
Images showed massive heaps of debris and rubble after buildings collapsed. Crowds of survivors were also seen gathered in the streets for safety.
“The situation is worse than we imagined with people in devastated villages still desperately trying to rescue survivors from under the rubble with their bare hands,” said Thamindri de Silva, national director at World Vision Afghanistan.
Reinforcements from the capital Kabul had arrived to help, de Silva added, “but there was only one hospital and it was at full stretch with serious cases being transferred to other private facilities in the city.”
“Our colleagues and their families are processing this devastation in their hometowns and yet we are responding with everything we have,” de Silva said. “People need urgent medical care, water, food, shelter and help to stay safe.”
Funding from the international community, he added, “has been inadequate.”
“Organizations like ours are able to provide relief and help recovery but without commitment from international governments and donors, more will fall into humanitarian need, displacement will increase and lives will be lost. The world must not look away now.”
UN agencies and partners are continuing to mount emergency operations and deploying more teams to join ongoing humanitarian efforts, spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric said.
“We are coordinating with the de facto authorities to swiftly assess needs and provide emergency assistance,” Dujarric said.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Sunday expressed solidarity and called on the international community to “come together and support Afghans impacted by the earthquake – many of whom were already in need before this crisis,” he added.
UNICEF, the UN’s children’s fund, has dispatched 10,000 hygiene kits, 5,000 family kits, 1,500 sets of winter clothes and blankets, 1,000 tarpaulins, and basic household items to ongoing humanitarian efforts.
Teams are also conducting additional assessments on the ground and are providing emergency drugs and tents for overburdened health clinics.
“We will make every effort to bring quick relief to those affected,” said Fran Equiza, its representative in Afghanistan.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Sunday put the number killed at 2,053 people, with more 1,240 people hurt and 1,320 houses completely or partially destroyed. But there are fears the toll could rise further.
Afghanistan has long been one of Asia’s poorest countries and has been ravaged by conflict for decades.
The Taliban seized power in August 2021, 20 years after their ouster by US troops – an event that saw many major aid groups and NGOs pull out and crucial aid programs halted.
The Taliban’s takeover further isolated Afghanistan from the rest of the world and led to Washington and allies cutting off international funding – crippling an economy already heavily dependent on aid.
The country continues to suffer significant damage from regular earthquakes.
A 5.9 magnitude earthquake last June in the eastern Paktika and Khost provinces bordering Pakistan, killed more than a thousand people.
Last week the World Bank warned that two thirds of Afghan families currently faced “significant challenges in maintaining their livelihoods” – making it harder for Afghans to recover from earthquakes, which have been regularly occuring in the country.
International aid groups have said their ability to respond to calls during major disasters was heavily hampered by the Taliban’s takeover and called for more urgent global aid but only a handful of countries have publicly offered support.
Neighboring China in a statement issued on Sunday by its foreign ministry said that it would do “its best to assist in Afghanistan’s disaster-relief efforts in light of its needs.”