Western Afghanistan was hit by one of the most lethal earthquakes in 20 years, claiming at least 2,000 lives, according to an announcement from a Taliban government official on Sunday. The true extent of the catastrophe is still unfolding.
For context, a significant earthquake that impacted eastern Afghanistan in June 2022 resulted in the loss of approximately 1,000 lives. However, the quake this past Saturday, with a magnitude of 6.3, struck closer to the bustling region near Herat, Afghanistan’s fourth-largest city. The U.S. Geological Survey pinpointed the city’s epicenter around 40 kilometers northwest. A series of powerful aftershocks trailed the main quake, the strongest three being magnitudes of 6.3, 5.9, and 5.5.
The aftermath was grim on Sunday. Residents of Herat navigated the rubble in search of the injured and the deceased, often using bare hands. Many survivors and casualties were found buried beneath the debris of collapsed structures. A heart-wrenching video circulated online captured the moment rescuers retrieved a baby girl trapped up to her neck amidst the ruins. The identity of the individual assisting the child is believed to be her mother, though her fate remains uncertain.
Abdul Wahid Rayan, the Ministry of Information and Culture spokesperson, updated that the devastation was even more profound than preliminary reports suggested. He highlighted the dire need for emergency assistance, stating, “Over 2,060 have died, 1,240 have sustained injuries, and 1,320 homes have been razed.”
Numerous organizations, including the military, the Red Crescent, and others, have mobilized to provide relief. The United Nations contributed medical staff and support counselors, with Doctors Without Borders establishing temporary medical facilities in Herat Regional Hospital. UNICEF also pitched in, sending winter essentials like clothing, blankets, and tarps as temperatures dipped.
Omid Haqjoo, a photographer, visited affected areas and painted a harrowing picture of the devastation and desperation of the locals. Aid organizations, including the World Food Program, are working diligently to provide immediate relief.
Save the Children’s country director for Afghanistan, Arshad Malik, emphasized the dire circumstances, explaining that the region was already grappling with food shortages before the quake.
Countries and personalities from around the globe have extended their support. An Afghan cricket icon, Rashid Khan, pledged his entire Cricket World Cup earnings to aid the survivors. Meanwhile, China and Japan have voiced their commitment to assist relief efforts.
Despite the outpouring of support, communication challenges persist in Herat, making acquiring real-time updates difficult.