Volunteers and rescue workers in earthquake-hit Afghanistan say they are forced to use shovels, even their bare hands, to search for victims and survivors.
“There is no modern equipment or trained search and rescue teams. This could lead to an increase in the number of victims. “If we do not urgently receive advanced and trained rescue teams in the region, we will see an increase in the loss of lives that could have been avoided,” Sabir, a rescuer from the province of Djibouti, told Al Jazeera on Sunday. ‘Herat, in western Afghanistan. .
He urged the international community to send relief teams to the poor South Asian country, which has lacked a strong disaster management agency and other resources since the Taliban regained power two years ago. years.
According to official figures, at least 2,053 people were killed and nearly 10,000 injured after the 6.3 magnitude earthquake and several aftershocks hit this humanitarian aid-dependent country on Saturday morning.
Sabir said the actual toll could be higher.
“We still do not know the number of casualties because most people – dead or alive – are still buried under the rubble,” he said, adding that it was difficult to quantify the number of people still trapped .
Sabir said he was startled awake when the powerful earthquake shook the ground. “It was like nothing I had experienced before,” the 30-year-old told Al Jazeera by phone.
“It was a massive vibration and I felt fear, anxiety and panic all at once,” he said.
Shortly after securing his family’s safety, Sabir, an aid worker with a local NGO, showed up for work to help with the emergency response.
It was only after arriving in the Zenda Jan district of Herat, the epicenter of the earthquake, that he was able to see the extent of the impact of the tragedy. At least 13 villages in this district alone were deeply affected, he said.
“The scenes I witnessed are among the most horrific things I have seen in my life,” Sabir told Al Jazeera, adding that villages with more than 400 households had been turned into ruins.
“At least nine villages in the district were completely razed and not a single structure was left standing,” he said. “There were children, women and elderly people among the bodies that were evacuated.”
Lack of resources, rescuers
Sabir said there was an urgent need for food, water and shelter, especially for women and children who lost their homes.
“There is a shortage of water and food, and families, women and children, have no shelter or tents to protect themselves from bad weather and the cold of the night,” he said, adding that volunteers had brought some resources, but that they were insufficient.
“Many volunteers from the city of Herat visited these sites, which was very helpful and helped save lives, but there is still much to be done,” he said.
Sabir said that apart from food, water and tents, survivors also need medical and psychosocial support.
“A particular requirement is the care of many children who have become orphans or separated from their families. They need psychosocial support, someone to take care of them,” he said.
However, a significant reduction in foreign funds since the Taliban takeover in 2021 has left aid-dependent Afghanistan vulnerable to humanitarian crises. AAdditionally, there is also a shortage of skilled workers, as many Afghans with expertise fled the country after the Taliban returned to power.
Local officials and residents said they were struggling to carry out search and rescue operations.
“The crisis is already beyond the capacity of local authorities in Herat. This requires a more concentrated response and a need for modern rescue equipment, which we do not have,” said Abdul Baset Rahmani, a disaster management expert who joined the volunteers in Herat.
Despite growing challenges, rescuers and volunteers remain hopeful of saving more lives.
“This village has nearly 2,000 inhabitants. We only found 40 people. The others are still buried. Many of them are alive,” Sabir said while participating in rescue operations in Naib Rafi village in Herat.
He said he walked past every pile of rubble that was once a house and called out to anyone who could respond.
“I kept calling, ‘Is there anyone there?’ and then we heard a voice. “Yes, I’m alive,” he said. Sabir and his colleagues quickly helped dig up a man alive – the only survivor of his family.
“It was the most painful moment of my life,” Sabir said.