A man with two of his children are standing outside the tent they are living in. He is holding one daughter, while the other is standing next to him.

Emergency response for earthquake survivors

Three deadly earthquakes struck western Afghanistan between 7 and 15 October, killing more than 1,400 people and destroying thousands of homes. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is working around the clock to save and rebuild lives.

Our emergency teams are on the ground, assessing and coordinating an emergency response. We are working with Afghan authorities, other non-governmental organisations, and the affected communities themselves.

“Death tolls, injuries and damage to buildings are expected to rise in the coming days, and a series of aftershocks and sandstorms have hampered relief efforts,” says Maisam Shafiey, communications and advocacy adviser for NRC in Afghanistan. Together with thousands of families in the affected areas, he has spent another night sleeping out in the open.

Shafiey has met several of the earthquake survivors. They told him of how dear family members were buried under collapsed houses, and of how they themselves are now without shelter and do not know how they will get through the winter.

Digging the dead from the rubble

“I was working outside the house when my son shouted that his mom was inside, trapped under the rubble. There was no shovel or tool to hand that I could use to remove the debris. Then came the second shock, when the entire house fell. Unfortunately, my wife and two of my children passed away,” says Faizullah, a 38-year-old resident of Qala-e Nawak village in Herat province.

He says that because everyone was busy with their own house, no-one was around to help him dig among the ruins of his house and search for his wife and his two children.

A man is looking at his belongings, which are strewn all over the ground after an earthquake.
Faizullah, 38, collecting his possessions after he was able to retrieve them from the rubble. Photo: Maisam Shafiey/NRC

Two of Faizullah’s daughters – Parwana, 6, and Marzia, 8 – survived the earthquake.

“They were in our neighbour’s house, and they were both trapped under rubble when the house fell. But I was able to get Marzia out. First we thought she had passed away, but after pouring some water on her face, we saw her breathe and knew she was alive.”

Parwana, Faizullah’s second daughter, was taken to the hospital for treatment. “When I went to fetch her from hospital, Parwana put her arms around my neck and asked me where her mother was. And I had no answer for her,” he says.

NRC staff setting up a large white tent.
NRC emergency staff set up a tent for their team to conduct assessments in Cheshma-e Ghori village, following the earthquake. Photo: Maisam Shafiey/NRC


Winter on its way

Winter is on its way, with night-time temperatures already starting to drop. Thousands of families are sleeping on the ground and have lost everything they own.

“With small children it will be difficult to pass the winter in this tent. We all lost everything we had under the rubble,” says Faizullah.

NRC’s response

“Our response will be split between covering immediate needs such as shelter, blankets, clean water and latrines, and more long-term planning to help communities recover,” says Shafiey.

“As a second phase, we aim to build the resilience of those populations who have been affected by the earthquake. Funding permitting, 30,000 people will benefit from our planned response.”

Father and son in front of their ruined home.
Assadullah and his son Rahmatullah, 4, in the ruins of their home that was destroyed by the earthquake. Photo: Maisam Shafiey/NRC


The community is helping

Assadullah, 33, a resident of Sar Buland village in Herat province, was living with his mother, wife, two sons and two daughters when the earthquake destroyed their newly built home.

The first two nights and days after the earthquake, people from the community brought us food, water, blankets, and other things. They also helped villagers in removing bodies from the rubble,” he says.

Three siblings outside the tent they are living in. The boys are outside, while their sister is looking out from inside the tent.
Assadullah and his family now live in a tent. Pictured are three of his children (from left to right): Abdullah, 6, Rahmatullah, 4, and Rahilla, 8. Photo: Maisam Shafiey/NRC


Children are having nightmares

Assadullah is now living with his family in a tent next to the ruins of his house.

“During the night, my children keep yelling and shouting and crying out ‘earthquake, earthquake!’ I try to calm them down and tell them that nothing will happen and there are no earthquakes, just nightmares.”

“We lost our house. We need shelter, we need water, and we need stuff to keep us warm during the winter,” he says.

Assadullah needs 200,000 Afghani (equivalent to around USD 2,700) to build a new house for his family. He also lost his livestock in the earthquake. He says that many villagers still have livestock, but they have nothing to feed them.

An already fragile country

The communities affected by the earthquake have endured decades of conflict and underdevelopment. They have little resilience to cope with multiple simultaneous shocks.

“Our attention will shift to supporting those impacted to rebuild their lives. We hope to ensure they retain the option to remain in their homes, rather than being displaced to nearby larger towns,” says Shafiey.

The humanitarian aid system in Afghanistan is already desperately overstretched and underfunded, with over 29 million Afghans in need of humanitarian assistance. The country’s food rations from the World Food Programme have recently been substantially reduced due to funding cuts, leaving millions of families without enough to eat.

As winter approaches, there are concerns about how communities are going to survive. The road to recovery for many Afghans will be long and difficult.


NRC has been present in Afghanistan since 2003, working in 14 provinces to assist people affected by displacement as a result of conflict and disasters.