Gayan, Paktika – In the early morning hours of Wednesday, June 22, mud houses in this remote part of southeastern Afghanistan began to shake and collapse under the force of a 5.9-magnitude earthquake.
In panic, residents tried to wake their sleeping relatives. But there was no time for hundreds of families.
Within minutes, the mud roofs of houses in the Gayan district, where poor families of up to 15 people lived together, collapsed on those still inside.
In the hours that passed after those first terrifying quakes, the death toll mounted.
By the time residents of the Afghan capital, Kabul, woke up to news of the earthquake in the remote eastern regions of the country, the death toll had already risen to 90. By evening, the 1,000, including at least 121 children, were expected to be dead. have passed.
Now, three days later, the death toll has surpassed 1,100 and hundreds are injured.
“Every house here has lost several people; everyone’s houses have been destroyed. Everything we had is gone now,” said Ali Khan, who tells how ten family members died in the earthquake, including children.
Raised in Gayan, the 35-year-old said: the economic conditions of the local villagers were a factor in the magnitude of the destruction and the death toll.
Nestled in rocky, unmade mountains and slopes, the remoteness of these poor villages and their rudimentary mud and wood houses has been cited as a major cause of the fatalities among residents of Khost and Paktika – the two provinces most affected by The earthquake.
“Everyone is poor here, they build simple houses with what they have,” Khan said, inspecting the cracked walls of his family’s mud house on a dry, dusty hillside in this remote part of the country.
‘You don’t know who to help first’
The Afghan Defense Ministry began deploying helicopters to the affected districts on Wednesday morning, but those flights had to be halted by mid-afternoon due to torrential rain, hail and overcast conditions over Kabul and neighboring provinces.
Health workers in Paktia province, home to the regional hospital for Afghanistan’s southeastern zone, told Al Jazeera that the delayed helicopter flights had a major impact on the ability of aid workers and medical professionals to help those most in need.
When helicopter flights resumed, demand was overwhelming.
A pilot operating flights between Paktika and neighboring Paktia province said he could not believe what he saw every time his helicopter landed in one of the affected areas.
“You don’t know who to help first, it’s just an influx of people desperately trying to get on board,” he said, restarting his helicopter’s engine for another flight.
Samira Sayed Rahman, communications and advocacy coordinator at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), said her organization had deployed mobile medical units in Khost and Paktika, but the need remained high.
IRC was fortunate to have teams in the two provinces and in Kabul who were familiar with the communities and geography of the affected areas, Sayed Rahman said.
“Our mobile health team in Spera (district) reported that most of the deaths, and the victims they treat in the district, are women.”
Haji Mirwais has been on the scene since Wednesday, leading an assessment team and working with several local NGOs to provide assistance to earthquake survivors.
When Mirwais initially arrived in Gayan district, he was shocked by what he saw. Nothing, he said, could have prepared him for the level of destruction he witnessed.
“We counted 1,700 homes that had to be completely renovated. There were no houses anywhere, just bits of mud and wood splatter everywhere,” he told Al Jazeera by phone.
“Paktika is in a dire state,” Mirwais said, adding that aid poured in from international organizations, companies, local NGOs and private donors, but it still wasn’t enough to meet the need.
Local sources told Al Jazeera that at least four of Paktika’s 19 districts suffered serious damage. At least 200 people have died in Gayan, according to the United Nations.
‘I feel that pain, also here in Europe’
Afghans at home and abroad have started their own relief efforts to assist victims of the earthquake.
“Wherever it is on the map, when people suffer in Afghanistan, I feel that pain, even here in Europe,” said Shafi Karimi, an Afghan journalist in France who has launched an online fundraising campaign hoping to raise €10,000. . help victims.
“We may be far away now, but we cannot forget our people,” Karimi said, explaining that he wanted his fundraising drive to serve as a model for Afghans abroad, regardless of whether they have left the country in the past year. – since the Taliban recaptured the country. power – or decades ago.
“I know it’s not much, but maybe I can help a family rebuild one of their rooms, or at least put some food on the table,” he said.
Pashtana Durrani, an education rights advocate who is currently studying in the United States, said she initially “renounced” humanitarian work but said reports of devastation coming from the hardest hit zones had prompted her to raise money and work together. to work with grassroots local groups and NGOs in Afghanistan. She hopes her assistance will reach the most needy.
“There should be people doing their best to serve the affected people rather than categorizing them based on ethnicity or which side they fought on,” Durrani said.
“The least I can do is offer some little help so they don’t have to worry about where to sleep or what to eat.”
Continued sanctions and restrictions on banking in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover adds another layer of complication to both Durrani’s and Karimi’s fundraising efforts.
They both want to focus on raising as much money as possible and getting it directly to those in need without having to deal with the restrictions placed on banking in Afghanistan.
Durrani said she wanted to use an app to send money, but the cost would be too high. Karimi said even once reliable services like Western Union and MoneyGram are proving overly complicated due to global banking restrictions after the Taliban returned to power last August.
“It’s so hard to get money into the country these days, but we’ll find a way to do it. We need to do this, for the people, when they need us most,” he said.
Durrani and Karimi are not alone in their fundraising. Afghans everywhere have started to help, including Rashid Khan, the top Afghan cricketer, who has launched an online fundraising campaign promising that every cent raised will go directly to earthquake victims.