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Stories of survival after Afghanistan earthquakes

Two survivor stories from Afghanistan after the three 6.3 earthquakes that struck Herat province in October 23.

Written by Tarryn Pegna | 10 Nov 2023

A child's bicycle sits on top of a pile of brown rubble that used to be a home. The dark blue tents shown in the background are providing some shelter for people who have been left homeless by the earthquakes.

A child’s bicycle sits among homes reduced to rubble after three 6.3 earthquakes struck Herat province between 7 and 15 October 23. In the background, tents are being used as temporary shelter, but the temperatures have already started to drop as winter approaches. Credit: Tearfund partner

Rafi* describes being in his field, farming, when the ground began to tremble and there was a sound like a deafening roar. ‘For a few seconds I did not understand anything at all,’ he says. ‘I was confused and unconscious. When I got up, there was nothing but dust all around me as if there had been an explosion. When I got home, I saw that our house had completely collapsed, and everything had been destroyed.

‘We have lost everything we had.’

Between 7 October and 15 October this year, three 6.3 magnitude earthquakes struck Herat Province in western Afghanistan, leaving around 1,400 people dead and many more injured.

Across the districts of Injil, Kushki, Zindajan, Gulran, Herat, Guzara and Kohsan, more than 10,000 homes were completely destroyed, 20,430 more were severely damaged and another 17,588 were moderately damaged. The majority of these were in Zindajan district at the centre of Herat province. More than 47,000 families have been displaced from their homes and are now living in exposed conditions in tents, makeshift shelters and informal settlements.

Schools, health facilities and other infrastructure were also impacted by the earthquakes and more than 275,256 people are estimated to have been directly affected.

‘When I got home, I saw that our house had completely collapsed, and everything had been destroyed. We have lost everything we had. ’
Rafi, earthquake survivor, Afghanistan

Rafi’s story

Rafi and his family were among those who lost their homes and, sadly, one of Rafi’s younger sisters was killed when the house collapsed. His mother and his other sisters were spared by the fact that they had been outside at the time of the quake.

Though they were spared physical harm, Rafi says the emotional damage runs deep. The fear and grief made it impossible to sleep during the nights that followed the earthquake and Rafi says, ‘The earthquake and loss of my sister terrified my mother. In the night she would suddenly scream "Earthquake, earthquake!".’

Psychological and emotional aftermath

In response to the psychological and emotional aftermath of the earthquake, Tearfund’s local partner organisation has assembled a mobile team in the region which is helping to support Rafi's family and others like them who are trying to come to terms with the loss and trauma they have faced. The team helped Rafi's mother and sisters access essential psychological support and valuable emergency management information. Professional counselling soon followed, along with medication for Rafi’s mother, which has allowed her to get some peaceful sleep and helped her to cope better.

Rafi says, ‘We received basic psychological services, and we gained vital information about emergency situations. After using the medicine, my mother improved and she is able to sleep easier at night. My sisters’ stress and fear has decreased a little too. Instead of constant fear and crying, they help and comfort my mother who has lost her daughter.

Lingering fear. And gratitude for support

‘Although the lingering fear of the earthquake and the grief of losing my sister may remain in our family for a long time, we are grateful to [Tearfund’s local partner] and other humanitarian organisations who supported us and our people through this crisis.

‘I hope this support continues in our village until these difficult days end and that our people can get back to their normal lives soon.’

Rubble almost covers a vehicle in Afghanistan after earthquakes destroyed houses and other buildings. In the background, blue tents provide some shelter for people who have lost homes.

A vehicle is almost submerged in rubble and debris after earthquakes destroyed homes and livelihoods in Herat province in Afghanistan in October. Credit: Tearfund partner

Abdul’s* story

On the day of the earthquake, Abdul was working in the city while his wife and two young children stayed at home. When the quake struck, he tried frantically to contact his family, only to discover that all communication lines to their remote village in the hills had been severed. He felt anxious and helpless. Then, a call from a friend brought the devastating news that their entire village lay in ruins.

Abdul abandoned his job and rushed home on his motorbike. He says, ‘As I sped towards the village, my mind was consumed with thoughts of my family. The prospect of losing my loved ones terrified me, and I couldn't stop the tears flowing.’

When he finally saw their village in the distance, he says it looked like nothing more than a dusty heap.

Chaos and loss

There was chaos. Abdul describes people running in all directions, searching for their families or crying out in grief. The devastation was overwhelming. His home was unrecognisable. In his desperate attempts to search through the rubble, Abdul tripped and collapsed in the place where his yard had once been.

When he woke up a little while later, he was in a white tent and being attended to by a doctor. Abdul immediately asked about his family. His niece, who was working at the clinic, had some reassuring news for him: his wife, mother and son had been rescued. However, when Abdul asked about his daughter, his niece remained silent and quietly left the tent. Abdul braced himself for the news he dreaded and later that day, the heartbreaking truth was confirmed. Abdul’s young daughter had not survived the earthquake.

‘The mental health services are essential for our village. They are providing much-needed support for those who have struggled after losing their family members in the earthquake.’
Abdul, earthquake survivor, Afghanistan

Abdul’s mother and son were treated at the local clinic and discharged after receiving physical care, but his wife was struggling emotionally and mentally. She was referred to the mental health department, where she and Abdul both received counselling from Tearfund’s local partner.

Grief and counselling

Abdul says, ‘I also got an individual psychological counselling session where I learned how to help support my wife to not get worse from the grief of losing our daughter.’

Abdul still struggles to accept the loss of his daughter, but he has remained steadfast in supporting his wife's recovery, encouraging her to continue with the medication and drawing on the advice from the counselling sessions to help him get through.

The regional clinic – particularly the mental health department – run by Tearfund’s local partner has offered a lifeline for many in the community who are experiencing depression and overwhelming grief in the aftermath of the earthquake.

‘The mental health services are essential for our village,’ says Abdul. ‘They are providing much-needed support for those who have struggled after losing their family members in the earthquake.’

Additional support

As well as providing mental health and psychosocial support, Tearfund has also been working with our local partner to meet other critical needs. Drought and economic challenges have left many people in Afghanistan struggling to provide enough food for their families and this new crisis has made the situation even worse. In response to this, Tearfund has provided cash grants to some of the most vulnerable households so that they can buy vital items – such as food, blankets and household items including cooking utensils – from the local markets.

With sanitation facilities damaged and clean water harder to access, there is also a high risk of disease outbreak following natural disasters. Tearfund has been providing soap and sharing safer hygiene behaviour messaging to help minimise these risks.

The coming winter

Following the earthquakes, even those whose homes are still standing are afraid to return to them and many people are living out in the open in makeshift shelters and tents, or in informal settlements. While this undoubtedly saved many lives when the third quake struck on 15 October, people are now vulnerable to the increasingly cold weather and to health and other protection risks.

With temperatures already dropping, the communities who have been affected are in urgent need of sustainable solutions to help them make it through the harsh winter conditions.

Please pray with us for all those who have been affected by the earthquakes. If you are able, please give to help ensure that Tearfund can continue to respond.

*Names have been changed to protect identity.

Pray for Afghanistan

    • Lift up all those who have lost loved ones. Pray for comfort and peace as they face the pain and shock of lives without them.
    • Pray for all those who have lost homes and livelihoods and everything they owned. Ask God to provide for them – especially as winter approaches, bringing icy temperatures and harsh conditions.
    • Thank God for all those who have been working to respond to the needs that this disaster has created. Pray for strength, resilience, protection and encouragement for them.

Written by

Written by  Tarryn Pegna

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