Quake-hit Afghanistan villages relying on self-help

Kabul, Oct 30 (IANS) Quake-stricken villagers in Afghanistan were doing their best to help themselves while waiting relief from aid agencies since the devastating 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck parts of the country on October 26.

“Up to 15 districts of Kunar province had been affected by the quake. Dozens of rough roads were blocked by landslides. No army machinery arrived due to insecurity and difficult terrain. Local residents are trying to reopen roads by shovels after local officials promised to pay them cash,” Xinhua quoted Mohammad Habid, a resident of Kunar, as saying.

The quake with a depth of 210 km hit the Hindu Kush mountain range in northern Afghanistan on Monday, with strong tremors felt in Pakistan and India.

The natural disaster, which struck nine out of the country’s 34 provinces, left hundreds of people homeless and thousands of families displaced. In many worst-hit areas. victims are waiting for help.

“As of Friday, the government assessment teams and rescue personnel have failed to reach all affected districts in Kunar,” Habid said.

“People in remote areas are digging debris to find remnants of food for children. The Afghanistan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) was the first and the only aid group to arrive in parts of Kunar and neighbouring Nangarhar province. The ARCS also distributed some aid packages provided by Qatar Red Crescent,” he said.

The government is leading assessment and response efforts. With the approaching winter, the immediate concerns and needs will most likely be emergency shelters, tents, blankets, warm clothing, water and sanitation support.

Assessments to determine loss of life and property damage continued in Afghanistan, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

“Under the auspices of Disaster Management Committees, joint rapid assessments have now been able to verify the complete destruction of 2,419 houses with a further 2,445 houses severely damaged,” the OCHA said in a statement.

At least 115 people lost their lives and 556 were injured in the disaster, according to latest data provided by officials.

A total of 7,630 homes, 12 schools, 17 mosques, 20 office buildings have been confirmed destroyed or severely damaged in the quake.

“The government reportedly has released 50 million afghani ($7.7 million) for the emergency response, including for the provision of food rations and logistical support,” the statement said.

“Humanitarian partners, meanwhile, are supporting rapid assessment activities and have begun responding to immediate needs for food, health, temporary shelter and non-food items.”

“With winter approaching, and the onset of extreme winter weather as early as the end of November in some areas, emergency shelters are particularly pressing concerns to be addressed,” OCHA’s statement said.

Access to quake-affected areas continues to be a significant challenge due to the rugged topography and insecurity in the most severely-hit parts of the country such as Badakhshan, Nuristan, Takhar and Kunar provinces.

“No attention was paid to the Jurm district of Badakhshan province which is centre of the earthquake. Local leaders said at least 13 people remained under the rubble. The villagers are using shovels and simple tools to sift debris and look after the victims,” a Jurm resident, Mirza Mohammad, said.

“The villagers set up small groups to travel in remote areas on animal backs to search and rescue their helpless countrymen. They are also carrying aid packages collected by locals to deliver to needy victims in far-flung areas,” said Mirza.

“Badakhshan is a mountainous province. It has a harsh winter, if the government and aid agencies fail to give a timely response to the situation, hundreds of lives would be lost, we will lose children and women,” he said.

“The government will provide assistance for the quake-hit families to rebuild their houses. Since the winter is drawing near, if the rebuilding takes longer time, the government plans to provide cash for homeless and displaced families to rent a house in nearby villages or towns for next three months,” state Minister for Disaster Management and Response Wais Barmak told the Afghan parliament on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the government paid 50,000 afghani ($781) as compensation for every family of 12 school girls who were killed as a result of a quake-triggered stampede at a school in northern Takhar province.

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