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Afghans left grieving and destitute by deadly earthquake


Afghans left grieving and destitute by deadly earthquake

After hundreds of lives were lost and homes destroyed in a single village in Herat province, UNHCR has rushed aid to the survivors and warned that more help is urgently needed before the onset of winter.
14 October 2023 Also available in:
A father and young son stand in a barren landscape with rows of tents in the background.

Zahir and his son Murtaza near the tent where they live after their house was destroyed in the earthquake that struck Afghanistan's Herat province on 7 October.

Piles of rubble are all that remains of Siah Ab village, a remote settlement once home to 300 families set in the barren landscape of Afghanistan’s western Herat province. The only things left standing are the trees that used to offer shade to homes now lying in ruins.

The once neat rows of mud-brick houses collapsed without warning on 7 October as a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck the area. The disaster happened at around 11 a.m., and most of the 200 villagers who lost their lives were women and children who were indoors when their homes caved in.

Among the victims were seven children from a single family, along with their mother and two other relatives. The children’s uncle, Zahir, and his 5-year-old son, Murtaza, were lucky to escape with their lives, but they – along with the other surviving villagers – are struggling to make sense of the tragedy.

“We lost ten family members in the earthquake, including seven of my nephews,” said Zahir in a tone of disbelief. “They lived in our neighbourhood and they were very good friends of Murtaza. We buried his friends as he watched.”

Video thumbnail image showing aerial view of destroyed homes

So far, more than a thousand people are thought to have died in the earthquake which also left thousands injured, though these estimates are expected to rise. Hundreds of thousands more in Herat province have been affected by the disaster, with many left homeless and now sleeping in the open. This latest tragedy follows years of crisis and hardship for many in the region, including recently returned refugees and internally displaced people.

Teams from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and its local partners have been on the ground since day one in Siah Ab and other locations, assessing people’s needs and delivering tents, blankets, solar lamps and other essentials. The agency will also provide cash assistance and counselling to those worst affected and has issued an emergency funding appeal for $14.4 million, urging donors to step up their help before the arrival of winter.

Specialized assistance will be given to people at heightened risk, including women and girls, child- or female-headed households, older people and people with disabilities. Children who are now orphaned, separated or unaccompanied will receive one-on-one care from UNHCR and its partners.

Men stand next to tents erected near the rubble of collapsed buildings.

Houses in Siah Ab village lie in ruins with only the trees left standing after the earthquake that hit Afghanistan's Herat province.

Nothing left

Zahir and his wife were initially reluctant to leave the site of their destroyed home but fled with the few belongings they could salvage after a second powerful tremor hit the area four days after the first. “I did not want to leave my house, even though there is nothing left,” Zahir explained.

The couple and their son now live in one of the dozens of tents provided to the villagers by UNHCR and its partners – Women for Afghan Women (WAW), Women’s Activities and Social Services Association (WASSA), and Ansari Rehabilitation Association for Afghanistan (ARAA) – along with household items and hygiene kits. The tents stand in a featureless stretch of land 3 kilometres from the village.

“We have lost everything. The tent is now the only thing we have,” said Zahir, full of uncertainty for the future. The father said his son Murtaza has not spoken much in the days since the quake struck. He is among hundreds of affected children who urgently require psychosocial support to address the trauma of what has happened. When Murtaza does speak, he expresses an unattainable desire to return to his now-destroyed home and see his favourite cousin, who died under the rubble. “We will go back to our house when this earthquake is over. Mansour is waiting for me.”

"We have lost everything."

Zahir, earthquake survivor