On a sunny day, a young shepherd named Omar goes out to the field to tend to his flock. As he does, his mother tended to her young children in their home while his father began his daily chores. Without warning, the ground rose up and shook violently, turning the soil into a liquid mass. The young shepherd deserted his flock, tearing straight to his home.
Except it no longer stood. Within moments of the earthquake, entire villages crumbled to dust. Trapped inside were families, desperate to escape, found buried beneath the clay bricks that once constituted a home.
The shepherd’s worst fears lay bare beneath the ruins of the place he’d left only a short time ago. His two young brothers and one sister never had a chance. The home became a grave.
“It was 10 o’clock in the morning, and I was working on the farm when a heavy earthquake struck our area,” said Omar. “I ran back home to see if my family members were ok. When I reached home, everybody was lying down under the dustbags. I found two of my brothers and my only little sister dead, which was the most tragic moment of my life.”
Between October 7 and 23, 2023, three powerful 6.3 earthquakes and three major aftershocks struck Herat Province, an area not known for them. Zinda Jan, a district of Herat Province, received the worst damage, with many villages destroyed. Mud brick homes collapsed without warning, trapping mainly women and children inside. Over 90% of the victims were women and children, who were home at the time, while the men worked agricultural jobs. By some estimates, 1,480 people have died, and 1,950 people were injured, with 100,000 people displaced.
With no available equipment or rescue operations coming to save those buried under mud bricks, survivors used their hands to dig in the rubble. If victims didn’t succumb to the falling bricks on their bodies, the dust suffocated them, adding to the tragedy.
Herat City, the capital of Herat Province and a major city of 574,276, also felt the effects of these quakes but suffered far less damage than the outlying areas. Emergency transportation to hospitals located there became difficult to impossible. Survivors who managed to get there lined the halls, awaiting treatment. Women doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers, who up to this point had been forbidden to treat patients, were quietly called back to duty.
In the first phase of relief efforts, Women for Afghan Women (WAW)’s humanitarian team reached the devastated villages to survey the damage and assess needs. 300 care packages containing food, hygienic products, and cooking kits were distributed to families who lost everything. With no shelter, WAW has also provided tents and blankets, so survivors have a safe and dry place to live and sleep.
As winter approaches and the weather gets colder in the earthquake-affected areas, the problems of the survivors increase. The region is known for high winds, blizzards and icy temperatures, creating a perilous situation for anyone exposed to the elements. Now that WAW is In the second phase of our earthquake relief efforts, your support allows us to prepare and distribute winterization kits that include nourishing food, warm winter blankets, thermal underwear, caps, socks, gloves, and other winter necessities for affected families.
Still, the unimaginable loss these Afghan families face is traumatic. They are already suffering the consequences of an unstable de facto government with few resources to handle such a catastrophic event. The human toll has stretched the ability of these survivors to the point of near nonexistence. WAW does its best to offer support with what resources it has. Only a few other organizations have remained in Afghanistan, and the humanitarian need to address this crisis is greater than ever.
We appeal to the public to aid Women for Afghan Women to offer aid to those who have lost their loved ones, their homes, and their ability to provide for their families. Please consider a donation to WAW’s Earthquake Emergency Relief Fund. All donations are 100% tax deductible.
Blog written by Gretchen Weerheim, Women for Afghan Women
Photo of Omar (main image) by WAW Afghanistan staff