International aid saves lives as Herat battles continuing earthquakes

By Omar

As repeated powerful earthquakes have continued to hit Herat province since October 7, destroying dozens of villages, emergency assistance provided by the international community has prevented a tragedy in the affected areas. [Omar/Salaam Times]

HERAT -- As powerful earthquakes have continued to hit Herat province over the past 10 days, destroying dozens of villages, emergency assistance provided by the international community has prevented a tragedy in the affected areas.

Herat province was struck by a 6.3-magnitude earthquake before noon on October 7, again by an earthquake of the same magnitude in the early morning of October 11 and a third in the morning of Sunday (October 15). All three earthquakes were followed by a series of powerful aftershocks.

In the immediate aftermath of the first quake, international aid organizations started providing tents, blankets, food, medical care, clean drinking water and other basic items.

United Nations (UN) relief organizations, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the European Union (EU) and other aid organizations have been spearheading the efforts to bring aid to earthquake survivors, some of whom are in very remote areas of the province.

Children whose houses were ravaged by a October 7 earthquake pose for a picture on October 16 in Faizabad village, Injil district, Herat province. [Omar/Salaam Times]

Children whose houses were ravaged by a October 7 earthquake pose for a picture on October 16 in Faizabad village, Injil district, Herat province. [Omar/Salaam Times]

Families find shelter October 16 in USAID-donated tents after earthquakes devastated their houses in Herat province. [Omar/Salaam Times]

Families find shelter October 16 in USAID-donated tents after earthquakes devastated their houses in Herat province. [Omar/Salaam Times]

The UN World Food Program was one of the first to respond, dispatching food within eight hours of the initial earthquake. That food was in the hands of the affected population within 24 hours, the agency said.

USAID October 12 announced that the US government was providing an additional $12 million in immediate humanitarian assistance to meet the urgent needs of survivors.

Without international assistance, most of the survivors would have died from hunger and exposure to the elements, said Mohammad Hashem, 38, who lost four members of his family and his house in the earthquakes.

"The earthquake took everything we owned," he said. "We do not even have a glass of drinking water."

"Six of us, including three children, survived the earthquake, and aid agencies have provided us with tents, blankets and food," he said, adding that aid agencies distribute three meals a day to those affected, as well as flour, rice, oil, utensils and other household necessities.

"All of the houses in our village have been destroyed, and more than 450 people have died. Our village is located in a desert," Hashem said. "We would have died had it not been for the assistance."

While the international community is mobilizing to provide relief to tens of thousands of survivors in the affected areas, the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" Khorasan branch (ISIS-K) has been making the situation worse by continuing to target civilians.

An ISIS-K attack on a Shia mosque in Pul-e-Khumri city, Baghlan province, during Friday prayers October 13 killed at least seven people and wounded 17 others.

Saving lives

International assistance to Herat's earthquake survivors is highly critical at this time, before winter sets in and residents whose houses have been destroyed are exposed to freezing temperatures.

"Our village is located in a desert without any facilities," said Aziz Ahmad, 18, a resident of Zindajan who lost two of his sisters in the first earthquake. "Since the entire village was destroyed, relief by aid agencies saved our lives."

"Aid agencies have distributed one tent to each family as well as blankets and food based on the number of family members," he said. "Aid has reached all of the affected villages. Not a single person was left out."

Health teams are working in his village, treating the injured and sick for free, he said.

Nazir Ahmad, 45, lives in Faizabad village of Injil district with his eight-member family, in a tent donated by the UN.

His house was destroyed, but none of his family members was hurt, he said.

"My children would have died in this cold weather, if we did not have this tent," he said. "There was a storm two nights ago, and we had nothing to warm ourselves up, but this tent has kept us warm."

"Aid agencies and charities bring us warm food daily," he said, adding that he is thankful for the support they have been receiving during these tough days.

Need for durable houses

More than 40,000 residents of Herat province have been affected by the earthquake and need assistance, said the UN.

Most of them have lost their houses and belongings and are completely dependent on the international community's assistance.

Abdul Rahman, 32, a resident of Parwana village in Injil district, said that all 644 houses in his village have been destroyed and no longer are habitable. He has a family of 10.

"On the first night of the earthquake, aid agencies distributed tents, blankets and food to us," he said. "That assistance saved our families from hunger and cold. Survey teams are active in villages and address every need of the survivors."

"This assistance is temporary. In the long run, we need more assistance," he said. "We call on the international community to build durable homes for us. Winter is close, and living in tents in cold weather is very difficult."

Survivors cannot rebuild their houses because of poverty and economic problems, Abdul Rahman added. They are in dire need of assistance from aid agencies and the international community.

Proper shelter from the cold weather is essential, said Abdul Zahir, 65, a resident of Zindajan district whose house was destroyed.

"In the mountainous villages in our area, temperatures in winter drop to -20 degrees Celsius. Living in a tent in that cold weather is not possible," said Abdul Zahir, who lost three members of his family in the first earthquake.

"The tent is a good ... temporary solution, but our main request of the aid agencies and international communities is to build permanent homes for us," he said.

"Our houses were destroyed, and our belongings are buried under rubble. We don't have even a single afghani to buy bread for our families," he added.

In the current situation, the only hope of the earthquake survivors is assistance from aid agencies, Abdul Zahir said.

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Unfortunately, in the past few years, the people of Afghanistan have suffered a lot from natural disasters. The disasters took away from almost thousands of families whatever they had. Floods, earthquakes, diseases cause severe financial and human losses to people. Wars also destroyed Afghanistan. Thousands of young people were killed, but now that some security has come, the story of refugees has also been raised and Afghanistan may not have the capacity to absorb hundreds of thousands of refugees. Currently, thousands of Afghans are returning to their homeland from Iran and Pakistan, and the situation is that they have neither a job in the homeland nor a shelter to live in. The Herat earthquake has also damaged thousands of families. Overall, Afghanistan is facing a difficult situation and if a solution is not found, the situation will worsen, but on the contrary, some Taliban fighters who are still in love with the government soldiers are chasing the deserters, harassing them and treating them badly instead of treating them well. At the same time that the ministry known as vice and virtue have turned people's hearts away from Islam. Instead of solving the problems, they are increasing day by day.


Herat earthquake has really made the people upset. Days before, I spoke with a colleague from Herat, he said that it is a doomsday going on upon Heratians. On one hand, the extreme cold of the night and on the other hand, passing the night in the tent, which is really hard. Today, it is a matter of concern that in addition to international aid, ordinary people and businessmen of the country have collected twice as much aid and handed it over to the commission so that people's houses can be rebuilt. Can the ruling system manage it? Is the right assigned to the right holder or not? People are worried about what will happen. What is going on in this regard? And what will happen? It will be determined in the future.


The construction of houses, whether done by WFP, USAID, or other agencies, is commendable. Not only for these earthquake victims but for all other people who live in vulnerable areas, houses should be built. Similarly, Afghans who live in Pakistan and Iran should be given residential units in the deserts in each province they belong to. A mosque, a school, a kindergarten, a park... should be considered for every few hundred units. Then, it is possible to give the Afghans living in Pakistan and Iran one to two years to return to their country. Everything is needed in every residence, from a teacher to an imam, a bricklayer, an architect, an engineer, a doctor, a motorist, a car, sand, soil, stones, etc. Everything is planned with it, and if God wills, in the future, there will be no fear that the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and Iran will form such proxy groups in the refugee camps in their countries to overthrow the central governments of Afghanistan.


Both are good ideas. If houses are built for the people in their own provinces, on one hand, the burden of a single province will be reduced, and on the other hand, refugees will return to the province they belong to. Secondly, if the refugees from Iran and Pakistan come to their homeland, the hands of the intelligence agencies will also be shortened.


Many thanks to all those who helped the affected people of Herat Province. The continuing earthquakes have destroyed several villages in Zindajan district of Herat province, in which a large number of our compatriots from Herat were killed and many others were injured. We Afghans living anywhere share in your sorrow and feel your pain. One thing that, I have to remember is that the temporary aid from the government of the Islamic Emirate and international institutions has arrived for the people of Zinda Jan district of Herat province, and we express our gratitude for the timely aid from all governmental and non-governmental organizations. We request foreign and domestic organizations to build houses for the affected people of Zindajan district, Herat province. From the pictures that can be seen on TV, it is clear that these people have a bad economic condition, but they cannot build new homes for themselves. It is difficult to live in a tent in winter, because these people of Zindajan district cannot spend the cold winter in a tent. The children who survived from the earthquake may lose their lives in the cold season of winter. May God help foreign and national aid agencies to realize that winter is coming in a few days, not miss the opportunity and start building the houses as soon as possible. This is a request of every Afghan from the international community organizations.