Afghanistan earthquake: Voices from the survivors

Since Saturday 7 October, Herat Province in western Afghanistan has been hit by three powerful earthquakes as well as innumerable aftershocks of varying strengths. 

At the Herat Regional Hospital, where MSF runs regular activities in the paediatric department, MSF donated mass casualty kits and erected a total of 10 tents in the hospital compound to accommodate the wounded and their caretakers. On the first days, approximately 540 wounded were treated at the hospital, followed by 126 after the earthquake on Wednesday 11 October and 167 after the earthquake on Sunday 15 October. The number of dead has been estimated by the authorities at around 2,000 but figures remain unclear. 

Most patients have mild to moderate injuries, and mental health support remains a primary need. Many people have lost family members, their homes and possessions, and are sometimes among the last survivors from their village. MSF teams have been visiting some of the worst-affected areas outside the city to assess the medical needs, including the district of Zinda Jan. 

Below are some of the stories from the earthquake survivors: 

Rabieh Jamali, 37  

Rabieh Jamali’s village of Seya Hab, Zinda Jan District, was destroyed in the earthquake. She is staying in the hospital compound with her father, Gul Mohamed, and other surviving members of her family. Rabieh suffered injuries to her leg, head and back. The family have been at the hospital for five days and despite being discharged, they have chosen to stay in the tents.

"When the first earthquake hit, we had just had our lunch and my husband and daughter had stepped outside. That’s when we heard a loud noise, felt some shaking, and everything went black. I woke up to people removing bricks from my body and the rest of my family. There were six people in the room at the time; my three-year-old daughter was killed."

Rabieh Jamali. © Paul Odongo/MSF

Shamaeil, 25 

Shamaeil, come from Naieb Rafi village in Zinda Jan District. Shamaeil was injured when the wall of the house collapsed on her, breaking her leg and hurting her back. She was pregnant and was due to deliver soon, but she has since lost the baby. 

"My daughter was covered in rubble but thankfully she wasn’t hurt. We were both trapped. When we were pulled from under the debris, I was bleeding and lost consciousness. When I regained consciousness, I found myself in the maternity ward. I tried to remember what had happened. I initially thought only my house had been damaged, but then my mother and some relatives told me that the whole village had been levelled. I also learned then that I had lost my baby."

Shamaeil. © Paul Odongo/MSF

Farhah Din Malik 

Farhah Din was working in Iran when he received news of the earthquake from his brother, and he immediately set off to be with his family. The journey took him two days. He is now in the MSF tent with his 12-year-old sister, his wife Madina, his brother’s wife and another relative.

"On Saturday 7 October, I had just woken up after my night shift and was washing before prayer when I received a phone call from my brother. He was crying, telling me to come home and that we had lost many members of our family. When I asked who, he started counting: my mother, my nine-month-old daughter, my sister, his three-year-old daughter. He told me that the whole village had collapsed. “Please run,” he said. I started crying. "

Farhah Din Malik. © Paul Odongo/MSF


"We were in the house when the earthquake struck. The roof fell and we were buried. My nine-month-old baby was in the bedroom in his cradle, and he died under the rubble. 

I have stitches in my head and pain in my back. We were brought here by a helicopter. Today, the doctors said they want to discharge me, but I don’t know where to. 

Our biggest need right now is a home. The winter is extremely cold in our village and a tent will not help."

Sangin, 26 

Sangin is from Naieb Rafi village in Zinda Jan District. He has a broken arm and sprained shoulder, and before the earthquake he had recently become engaged and was saving up for the wedding. His four sisters died in the earthquake. 

"It was around 11.30am when something like a strong wind came and the ground shook, collapsing the whole village. Only a few people survived, and I am still thinking whether I am lucky to have been among them.

I was working outside that morning and had gone home to have lunch with my mother and four sisters. Just as I was about to leave, the earthquake struck. I wanted to run outside but was trapped when the wall fell on me. My sisters heard my voice and as they were also trying to run the roof fell on them. 

I shouted and people came and pulled me out. My sisters were all dead by the time they were pulled from under the debris.

I lost consciousness and when I woke up, I was at the hospital with a bandage on my hand and an IV line running into my hand. That’s when I realized what had really happened. I still hear the tremors in my head. 

I feel alone. I have lost almost all my closest family. I don’t know what to do. I need money to survive, and I need to marry and build a home. I feel depressed. My mother is in one of the wards, but I don’t know which one. My father was in Iran when the earthquake happened, and I haven’t seen him. I don’t know where he is."

Sangin. © Paul Odongo/MSF

Abdul Salaam, 46

Abdul Salaam is from Sanjaib village in Injil District. He speaks about what happened after the second earthquake.

"We have lost everything and have nothing to live on. We lost our livestock, our belongings, and our home. We are trying to recover whatever we can."

*Names have been changed