Afghanistan Earthquake: Afghans Dig Flattened Villages By Hand For Survivors As Relief And Rescue Crawl Under Taliban Rule

The Taliban rule in Afghanistan has ensured that the country even when struck by devastating natural disasters remains largely cut-off from the international aid and attention. While the United Nations (UN), Red Crescent, and Doctors Without Borders have mobilised themselves, the international response is nothing compared to the help that poured in Turkey earlier this year when it was struck by an strong earthquake.

Afghan search for victims after an earthquake n Herat province of Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Omid Haqjoo)

In the absence of a coordinated national response and lack of international aid because of the Taliban rule, Afghans are digging the Earth in their flattened villages with bare hands to look for survivors. 

The Taliban regime has said that around 2,000 people have so far died in the 6.3-magnitude that struck the Western region of the country near Herat, the fourth-largest city in the country. 

Large swathes of stone and mud-brick settlements have been flattened. Visuals have since surveyed that show the villages digging with their hands and people being rescued. The situation was worsened by the powerful aftershocks of magnitude 6.3, 5.9, and 5.5. 

The Taliban authorities have said that at least 2,060 people have dead, 1,240 are injured, and 1,320 houses are completely destroyed.

While the United Nations (UN), Red Crescent, and Doctors Without Borders along with other international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have responded to the situation along with the limited resources of the Taliban regime, the international response that such situations usually attract is absent, understandably so as Afghanistan under the rule of the Islamist militant group Taliban has become a pariah state and most foreign donors and aid agencies have withdrawn support. 

The Afghan situation, both in terms of international support and attention, is vastly different from the devastating earthquake in Turkey earlier this year, which attracted help from all over the world, including from India that set up a military field hospital in the country. 

In August 2021, the Taliban overthrew the internationally recognised Afghan government and established its own hardliner Islamic regime, which it calls Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Since then, the human rights situation in the country has worsened as international aid has reduced to a trickle and the militant regime has failed to organise itself into a government that can properly serve the people. 

As with every disaster, the devastation keeps getting worse as layers of vulnerability come to the fore. Under the Taliban regime, girls and women have largely disappeared from public life. Their education is largely banned. They are banned from public parks. They are banned from sports and recreation. They are banned from beauty salons. They are banned from most employment opportunities. Then, there are ethnic minorities who have it worse, who are also at the receiving end of violence from groups like ISIS. In such trying circumstances, an earthquake that levels entire communities deals a further blow to a nation that's barely functioning. 

In our 01 March 2023 issue, we looked at earthquakes and other natural disasters. In her piece, Melda Dogan wrote that women and children are the worst sufferers in earthquakes. Highlighting the ignorance of women's needs during relief work, she wrote, "One crucial thing that has been missing from aid packages is sanitary pads. It’s an essential item, but people don’t talk about pads openly in this country. In the midst of a disaster, it seems this was not a priority item for those sending aid packages."

Dogan wrote that about Turkey. One may only what the condition would be like in Afghanistan where the women have largely pushed behind the veils out of the public domain in much of the country. 

This is the second major earthquake to strike Afghanistan. In July 2022, around 1,000 people were killed in an earthquake that struck eastern Afghanistan. 

In his piece, Yusuf Erim wrote about the trauma that lasts among the rescuers responding to disasters. 


India has been no stranger to natural disasters, whether its the Kashmir earthquake or the Bhuj earthquake. Then, the hills have witnessed tragedies like the one in Uttarakhand's Kedarnath area or in Himachal Pradesh just this year. Recalling the Gujarat earthquake, Vipin Pubby wrote about the trauma of the earthquake and Haima Deshpande reported the cost that people bore as they rebuilt their lives ransacked by the Bhuj earthquake. 

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