UN working to get shelter, trauma care to Afghan quake scene

The United Nations’ humanitarian agency said Wednesday it was scrambling to get emergency shelter, trauma care and food aid to the scene of a deadly earthquake in Afghanistan.

The earthquake struck a remote border region of Afghanistan overnight killing at least 1,000 people and injuring hundreds more, with the toll expected to rise.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said humanitarian partners were preparing to assist affected families in Paktika and Khost provinces, in concert with the Taliban authorities.

“Immediate needs identified include emergency trauma care, emergency shelter and non-food items, food assistance and WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) support,” the OCHA said.

“Given the unseasonable, heavy rains and cold, emergency shelter is an immediate priority.”

The 5.9-magnitude quake struck hardest in the rugged east, where people already lead difficult lives in a country in the grip of a humanitarian disaster made worse by the Taliban takeover in August 2021.

The OCHA said the Taliban’s disaster management and humanitarian affairs office had delivered food and emergency tents to some families living in the open but further help was needed.

The agency said the Afghan defence ministry had dispatched five helicopters to Paktika province to facilitate medical evacuations.

“Although search and rescue efforts are ongoing, heavy rain and wind is hampering efforts with helicopters reportedly unable to land,” said the OCHA.

“The number of casualties is expected to rise as search and rescue operations are ongoing.

“Humanitarian search and rescue teams… are on standby to deploy as needed.”

Up to 1,800 homes have reportedly been destroyed and damaged in Gayan, representing 70 percent of the district’s housing stock, said the OCHA.

– Tents and tarpaulins –

UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, has deployed a dozen teams of health workers to Gayan, and several mobile health and nutrition teams to Barmal district in Paktika province and Spera district in Khost province.

“UNICEF is also distributing critical aid, including kitchen equipment, hygiene supplies including soap, detergent, towels, sanitary pads and water buckets, warm clothes, shoes and blankets, as well as tents and tarpaulins,” said UNICEF’s Afghanistan representative Mohamed Ayoya.

Meanwhile the World Health Organization has also delivered 100 cartons of emergency medicine to Gayan and Barmal.

The WHO’s Afghanistan office said that within hours of the quake, their teams were supporting local health workers in saving lives and taking care of those affected.

Emergency kits have reached Paktika Provincial Hospital “for the immediate needs of those injured”, it said.

“A shipment of 9.8 tonnes and 95 cubic metres of medical supplies are on the way to the earthquake-affected areas of Afghanistan. These include 30 emergency health kits, 50 surgical kits and other meds to treat the wounded at hospitals.”

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said his thoughts were with those who had lost loved ones.

“WHO will continue supporting people in need across the country,” he tweeted.

Heartbreak and shock at Afghan quake hospital
Sharan, Afghanistan (AFP) June 22, 2022 – Bibi Hawa’s face is distorted by tears as she tries to grasp her predicament from a hospital bed in Sharan, capital of Afghanistan’s Paktika province.

At least a dozen members of her family were among over 1,000 people killed by a devastating earthquake that struck the region early Wednesday, and she fears she has been left all alone.

“Where will I go, where will I go?” the 55-year-old asks repeatedly.

As a nurse tries to calm her down, talking to her gently and caressing her forehead, Bibi sighs: “My heart is weak.”

The 5.9-magnitude quake struck hardest in the rugged and impoverished east, where people already led hand-to-mouth lives made worse since the Taliban takeover in August.

The disaster poses a huge challenge for the hardline Islamists, who have largely isolated the country as a result of their hardline policies.

The United Nations in an initial estimate said over 2,000 homes were destroyed in the region, where the average family often has up to 20 members.

In the room where Bibi is being treated a dozen other women lie on beds — many asleep, some burrowed beneath blankets, others hooked up to vital fluids.

Shahmira is unhurt, but her one-year-old grandson lies in her lap, a large dressing covering his temple.

On the next bed her daughter-in-law is sleeping off her injuries, while a son is being treated in a different ward.

“We were sleeping when we heard a loud noise,” she tells AFP of the quake.

“I screamed… I thought my family was buried under the rubble and that I was the only one” still alive.

– Cries everywhere –

In an adjacent ward, a dozen men are also recovering on beds.

One father holds his son on his lap — the boy wearing mustard-coloured pants with little black hearts, one leg in a plaster cast.

Nearby another child lies under a blue blanket. His left arm is also in a cast, while on his forehead a white bandage bears the word “emergency” written in black marker.

“It was a horrible situation,” recalls Arup Khan, 22, talking of the moments after the quake.

“There were cries everywhere. The children and my family were under the mud.”

Mohammad Yahya Wiar, director of Sharan Hospital, says they have been doing their best to treat everyone.

When the injured arrived, they “were crying, and we were crying too”, he tells AFP.

“Our country is poor and lacks resources. This is a humanitarian crisis. It is like a tsunami.”

But locals are rallying to help. In front of the hospital, a hundred men are waiting patiently.

“They have come to give blood — about 300 have already given it since this morning,” explains a Taliban fighter.

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