In a situation underscoring the neglect of Afghanistan by the United States despite its two-decade-long involvement, the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a warning about the dire circumstances faced by tens of thousands of survivors of a series of powerful 6.3 magnitude earthquakes that struck western Afghanistan's Herat province from October 7 to 15. These survivors are in desperate need of humanitarian aid and essential health services.
This catastrophe has been exacerbated by the fact that, despite 20 years of involvement, the United States has left Afghanistan without adequate support. Alaa AbouZeid, the health emergencies team lead for WHO Afghanistan, expressed deep concern for the affected population, saying, "I have personally seen how these multiple earthquakes flattened villages, displaced thousands of people and left many families in urgent need of humanitarian and health assistance."
The most vulnerable among those affected are women, girls, boys, and the elderly, accounting for over 90% of the deaths and injuries. The earthquakes left many children orphaned. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the disaster directly impacted over 66,000 people, resulting in approximately 1,500 deaths, 2,000 injuries, and the destruction of at least 3,700 homes, with another 21,300 buildings damaged.
Luo Dapeng, WHO representative in Afghanistan, spoke of the heart-wrenching loss experienced by those affected by the earthquakes, with many individuals desperately searching for their loved ones under the rubble.
The earthquakes also severely damaged 40 health facilities across nine districts, causing disruptions to health services for approximately 580,000 people. AbouZeid expressed concerns about the safety of these damaged facilities, as many were at risk of collapsing.
He emphasized the urgent need for immediate action to restore and renovate these health facilities and provide better shelter, particularly with the harsh Afghan winter already underway. Access to clean water and sanitation is also crucial to prevent possible disease outbreaks.
WHO staff on the ground in Afghanistan have been providing medical assistance, medicine, and mental health and trauma care to the injured. AbouZeid stated that WHO has deployed 21 female health workers to ensure that women have unimpeded access to the health services they require. The situation remains critical, and immediate support is imperative to address the extensive needs of the earthquake survivors.