A powerful 6.3 magnitude earthquake has left a trail of devastation across western Afghanistan, killing over 2000 people and injuring thousands more. International aid groups describe the situation as “worse than imagined” and warn this will pile more misery on a country already mired in humanitarian crisis.
The epicenter of the earthquake was in the impoverished Herat province, 40 km from the city of Herat. It struck a remote mountainous region at a depth of 10 km early Wednesday morning as most people were asleep in their homes. The tremors brought down thousands of poorly constructed mud-brick dwellings, trapping whole families under mounds of rubble.
“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. The organization has rushed disaster response teams but medical facilities are overwhelmed.
Afghan residents dig through debris searching for survivors. With little access to machinery or equipment, most have had to claw through the wreckage with their bare hands, while others looked on helplessly.
“We are responding with everything we have. People need urgent medical care, water, food, shelter and help to stay safe,” said de Silva. But lack of roads and infrastructure poses immense logistical challenges.
The official death toll has crossed 2000, with over 1500 injured and thousands of homes destroyed. But aid workers fear the real figures could be much higher as some remote villages are still inaccessible. This is one of deadliest quakes to strike the region in decades.
“The world must not look away from Afghanistan now,” pleaded Mark Calder of World Vision Afghanistan. He warned that without significant international aid, the scale of humanitarian crisis will drastically worsen in a country already devastated by war, droughts and economic collapse.
UN Mobilizes Aid But Funding Inadequate
The United Nations has mobilized disaster response teams from Kabul to support rescue and relief efforts. But aid groups have criticized funding from global donors as woefully inadequate to meet growing needs.
“We are coordinating with authorities to swiftly assess needs and provide emergency assistance,” said UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric in a statement. He called for the international community to “come together and support Afghans impacted by the earthquake — many of whom were already in need before this crisis.”
UNICEF has airlifted urgent medical supplies including trauma kits, emergency drugs, tents and water purification tablets. But lack of clean water and medicine has heightened the risk of disease outbreaks.
“This is by far the worst earthquake Afghanistan has endured in many years,” noted UNICEF’s Siddig Ibrahim. “Afghanistan is home to one of the world’s worst humanitarian and child rights crises. The international community should not, and cannot, look away from children in Afghanistan, especially now, when help is needed most.”
Save the Children described the scale of damage in Herat as “horrific” and said even before this disaster, aid resources were overstretched.
“We’ve been scaling up our response to support the increasing number of children in need, delivering health, nutrition, education, child protection, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene, and food security and livelihoods support … but [international] donors must provide lifesaving humanitarian assistance,” pleaded Arshad Malik, Save the Children’s Country Director.
Taliban Faulted For Slow Response
The Taliban administration has come under criticism for reacting slowly to the massive earthquake. Reinforcement teams took over a day to reach remote disaster sites. With minimal search and rescue training or equipment, local villagers were left to claw through rubble with farm tools and bare hands.
Observers say the disaster has exposed the inexperience and inadequacies of the new regime in dealing with a humanitarian crisis of this scale. The international sanctions and lack of funding since the Taliban seized power in August 2021 has crippled the country.
The region sits on major fault lines and is prone to frequent tremors. But decades of war has left infrastructure in tatters, from roads and hospitals to water supplies. Poverty and malnutrition have spiked, leaving Afghans more vulnerable.
This latest earthquake compounds the misery of communities still recovering from devastating floods and drought. With bitter winter cold setting in, aid agencies have warned of an impending humanitarian catastrophe if urgent international assistance is not forthcoming.
“Even before this disaster, over 29 million people in Afghanistan were in need of humanitarian assistance,” pointed out Salma Ben Assia of the International Rescue Committee. “The earthquake has further exacerbated the situation of already vulnerable communities and upcoming harsh winter conditions spell disaster.”
Long Road To Recovery Ahead
As aftershocks continue, the priority is on pulling out survivors trapped under debris. But the long road to rebuilding shattered communities will require sustained international commitment.
With homes, schools and health clinics reduced to rubble, families face hardships ahead. “Thousands are now without homes or shelter — they have lost everything,” said Arshad Malik, Save the Children director in Afghanistan.
Aid agencies lament that inflation and lack of funding has forced them to cut down on critical programs in healthcare, nutrition and sanitation — exacerbating the misery of Afghan communities in need. They urge donors not to abandon Afghanistan again.
This catastrophic earthquake has pushed families already on the edge into deeper desperation. The toll is still climbing five days on as remote villages cut off from aid and information.
For the thousands injured or disabled, the future looks bleak without rehabilitation and support. Aid workers call for urgent collective action as aftershocks keep rocking the region. The race is on to provide emergency shelter, food, medicine and warmth as cold winter descends on the mountainous terrain.
With families and livelihoods in ruins, international solidarity is needed more than ever to rebuild the lives of survivors. The road ahead is long but giving up is not an option for communities devastated by this tragedy upon tragedy in Afghanistan