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Remote areas of Afghanistan in crisis after a series of severe earthquakes


A series of earthquakes in western Afghanistan has killed more than 2,000 people, according to government officials. The quake struck Saturday, when most of the world's attention was focused on the violence in Israel and Gaza. On the line with us to tell us more is reporter Fazelminallah Qazizai, who's long worked for NPR in Afghanistan. Fazel, thanks for joining us.


DETROW: Let's start with the earthquakes themselves. What happened?

QAZIZAI: On Saturday afternoon in western Afghanistan, about seven earthquakes struck. The epicenter was a district called Zinda Jan in the country's west, near the provincial capital of Herat. Herat is about 75 miles east of the border with Iran. So the earthquakes were also felt in some part of Iran's northeast. The spokesman of the Ministry of Disaster Management and the Taliban government told me that more than 2,000 people were killed, and more than 1,300 homes were destroyed or damaged.

DETROW: I mean, these are just devastating figures. I understand you've spoken to some of the people on the ground. What are they telling you?

QAZIZAI: In fact, it's very difficult to reach people in this area. I managed to get through to one man from a village in Zinda Jan called Khuja. His name is Zalmi Barakzai. He wasn't at home when the earthquake struck but returned shortly after.

ZALMI BARAKZAI: (Non-English language spoken).

QAZIZAI: He says, "this morning I came back, and everything was gone." He says all the women and children in our village died. They were buried in a mass grave.


BARAKZAI: (Non-English language spoken).

QAZIZAI: He even helped extract some of the bodies. One of them was a child. He told me, I don't know his name. There wasn't anybody alive to help me identify him.

DETROW: This is just a horrible picture that he's painting for you. And I'm wondering, is any aid reaching these villages? What is the rescue effort at this point?

BARAKZAI: Yes. The Taliban government has sent officials from different ministries. The military corps is there. The traders, people from all the area are also there to help. I spoke to another man in Herat. That is the biggest city in western Afghanistan. His name is Nangialai Kabirzad.

NANGIALAI KABIRZAD: (Non-English language spoken).

BARAKZAI: He told me that the people are lining up to donate blood outside the hospital. Ambulances are still bringing in the wounded. Herat is a few dozen miles from the epicenter of these earthquakes, and there, Kabirzad says people felt the ground shake so strongly that they put it out into the streets. He says people are sleeping in their cars or in gardens because they are so scared of another earthquake.

DETROW: Apart from the local aid, are there any international efforts that you can see to help?

QAZIZAI: The World Health Organization says they are mobilizing resources to the area. They say the area that is affected is hard to reach. But even before this crisis, donors weren't giving enough aid to Afghanistan.

DETROW: Right.

QAZIZAI: The World Health Organization recently cut 10 million people from a feeding program it runs because it ran out of money. That's partly because of disaster in other parts of the world, like Ukraine and the Horn of Africa. But it's also because the Taliban have made it very difficult for international aid groups to operate.

DETROW: So challenges on a lot of different fronts, making rescue efforts and recovery more difficult here. That's reporter Fazelminallah Qazizai speaking to us from Afghanistan. Thank you so much.

QAZIZAI: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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