Afghanistan’s remote and poor villages hardest hit by the earthquake | News

Jayan, Paktika – In the early morning hours of Wednesday, June 22, mud houses in this remote part of southeastern Afghanistan began to tremble and collapse under the influence of a 5.9-magnitude earthquake.

The terrified residents tried to wake up their sleeping relatives. But there was no time for hundreds of families.

Within minutes, the muddy roofs of houses in Gayan district, where impoverished families of up to 15 live, smashed into those still inside.

In the hours that passed after those first terrible tremors, the death toll rose.

By the time residents of the Afghan capital, Kabul, woke up to the news of the earthquake that struck the remote eastern regions of the country, the death toll had already reached 90, and by evening it would exceed 1,000, including at least 121 children.

Now, three days later, the death toll has exceeded 1,100 and hundreds injured.

“Every house here lost several people; everyone’s homes were destroyed. Everything we had is now gone,” Ali Khan said, recalling how 10 family members were killed in the earthquake, including children.

The 35-year-old said he grew up in Gayan The economic conditions of the local villagers were a factor in the scale of the destruction and the number of dead.

Nestled in unpaved rocky mountains and hillsides, the remoteness of these poor villages and their primitive mud and wood houses has been cited as a major cause of death among the inhabitants of Khost and Paktika – the two provinces hardest hit by the earthquake.

“Everyone is poor here, they build simple houses with what they have,” Khan said, as he inspected the cracked walls of his family’s mud house on a dry, dusty hill in this remote part of the country.

“You don’t know who to help first”

The Afghan Defense Ministry began deploying helicopters to the affected areas on Wednesday morning, but by mid-afternoon, these flights were halted due to heavy rain, hail and cloudy conditions over Kabul and neighboring provinces.

Health workers in Paktia province, home to the regional hospital for the southeastern region of Afghanistan, told Al Jazeera that the delays in helicopter flights have significantly affected the ability of aid workers and medical professionals to help those in need.

When helicopter flights resumed, the demand was overwhelming.

A pilot flying between Paktika and neighboring Paktia province said he could not believe what he saw each time his helicopter landed in one of the affected areas.

“You don’t know who to help first, it’s just a rush of people desperately trying to get on the plane,” he said, restarting his helicopter’s engine for another flight.

Samira Syed Rahman, Communication and Advocacy Coordinator for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), said her organization has deployed mobile medical units in Khost and Paktika, but the need remains great.

Syed-ur-Rahman said the IRC was fortunate to have teams in the two provinces and in Kabul who were familiar with the communities and geography of the affected areas.

“Our mobile health team in Spira (county) reported that most of the deaths and victims they treat in the area are women.”

Haj Mirwais has been on the ground since Wednesday, leading an assessment team and working with several local NGOs to provide assistance to earthquake survivors.

When Mirwais first arrived in the Jayan region, he was shocked by what he saw. He said that nothing could prepare him for the level of devastation he witnessed.

“We counted 1,700 homes that needed a complete rebuild. There were no homes anywhere, it was just bits of mud and wood scattered everywhere,” he told Al Jazeera by phone.

“Paktika is in a terrible state,” Mirwais said, adding that aid is pouring in from international organizations, companies, local NGOs and private donors, but it is still not enough to meet the level of need.

Local sources told Al Jazeera that at least four of the 19 districts in Paktika were severely damaged. According to the United Nations, at least 200 people died in Guyen.

A Taliban helicopter takes off after providing aid to an earthquake-affected area in Ghayan, Afghanistan, June 23, 2022 [Ali Khara/Reuters]
A Taliban helicopter takes off after providing aid to an earthquake-affected area in Ghayan, Afghanistan, June 23, 2022 [Ali Khara/Reuters] (Reuters)

‘I feel this pain, even here in Europe’

Afghans at home and abroad launched their own aid campaigns to help earthquake victims.

Shafi Karimi, an Afghan journalist based in France, has started an online fundraising campaign hoping to raise €10,000 to help the victims.

“We may be far away now, but we can’t forget our people,” Karimi said, explaining that he wants his fundraising efforts to be a model for Afghans abroad whether they left the country in the past year — since the Taliban regained control of power — or decades ago.

“I know it’s not much,” he said, “but maybe I can help a family rebuild one of their rooms, or at least put some food on their table.”

Pashtana Durrani, an education advocate who is currently studying in the US, said she initially “swore” to humanitarian action, but said reports of devastation from the hardest-hit areas prompted her to start fundraising efforts and engage with local grassroots groups and NGOs. in Afghanistan. She hopes her aid efforts will reach those who need it most.

“There should be people who are doing their best to serve those affected rather than categorizing them on the basis of race or the side on which they fought,” Durrani said.

“The least I can do is offer some small help so they don’t have to worry about where they sleep or what they eat.”

Ongoing sanctions and restrictions on banking services in Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power add another layer of complexity to the fundraising efforts of both Durrani and Karimi.

Both want to focus on raising as much money as possible, and getting it directly to those in need without having to deal with restrictions on banking services in Afghanistan.

Durrani said she wanted to use an app to send money, but the fees would be too high. Karimi said that even trusted services such as Western Union and MoneyGram have proven overly complicated by global restrictions on banking services after the Taliban returned to power last August.

“It is very difficult to get the money into the country nowadays, but we will find a way to do it. We have to, for the sake of the people, that is when they need us most.

Durani and Karimi are not alone in their fundraising efforts. Afghans everywhere began to help, including Rashid Khan, the star of the Afghan cricketer, who started an online group, promising that every penny collected would go directly to earthquake victims.

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