Afghanistan earthquake: Survivors count horrific cost

By Secunder Kermani
BBC News, Paktika province, Afghanistan

  • Published
Image shows tent
Image caption,
"Whatever we own has been destroyed," Rahmat Gul tells the BBC

Rahmat Gul's family is busy erecting a tent that has just been donated by a former Afghan politician.

It stands next to another, donated by the Red Crescent, in the middle of the courtyard of the empty compound they now call home.

Their houses, in Gayan district of Paktika province, close to the epicentre of the powerful earthquake that struck south-eastern Afghanistan earlier this week, were all destroyed.

Seven members of the family were killed as they slept.

"There is no meaning to my life any more," Rahmat Gul tells us, "I saw my three daughters and four grandchildren die, my heart is broken."

Image caption,
Rahmat Gul

But there are other children to look after. The family spent the first night after the earthquake in the open, soaked by heavy rain.

"We need help, we have nothing, whatever we owned has been destroyed," he says.

Support for the victims is flowing in, from the United Nations, and international and local charities, as well as the Taliban government. Close to Rahmat Gul's compound, the Red Crescent is distributing packages of essential items including cooking oil and blankets.

"We need everything, because everything we own is now buried in the dirt," says one man, sitting amongst a large crowd waiting to be called forward to accept one of the bundles.

The small bazaar at the centre of the town of Gyan has turned into an open-air aid depot, with trucks arriving full of supplies, but Afghanistan is a country that was already struggling with an economic and humanitarian crisis.

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One partially collapsed building in Gayan district - just a glimpse of the wider destruction

Average incomes have been slashed by about a third since the Taliban came to power last August and millions are going hungry.

While humanitarian aid has continued, much of the wider development funding the previous government relied on has been cut off. Now, hundreds of families in Paktika and Khost have been left homeless.

There are still injuries to treat. The Halo Trust charity works clearing landmines, but has established mobile health clinics.

Sitting under a tent, Naqibullah, a medic, treats a stream of young children brought out to see him.

Five-year-old Barakutullah's arm was injured by falling debris. Naqibullah checks the bandages that had earlier been wrapped around it, and decides to leave it in place.

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Five-year-old Barakutullah is carried by a medic

"There are a lot of children who were wounded," he tells us. Some patients requiring specialist treatment have to be flown to Kabul by military helicopter. The villages are at least a three-hour drive away from the nearest big city, along largely bumpy dirt roads.

Also being treated for a minor foot injury is Zarma Gul. He shows us his home, which lies down the road and is now a heap of rubble.

When the earthquake struck he faced a terrible dilemma. Who from his family to save first?

Image caption,
Zarma Gul's wife died in the earthquake after their home collapsed on top of the family

"When the ceiling and walls collapsed, I heard my wife call out, 'Help me,' but my daughter was also in the room and I took her out first," Zarma Gul says.

He then rushed to another room to check on his other children. By the time he had returned to his wife, she had died.

A people exhausted by years of war, struggling with a collapsing economy, now face a new crisis.

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