Gull’s fight for Survival amid Herat’s deadly earthquake

Gull’s fight for Survival amid Herat’s deadly earthquake

Fourty-two-year-old Gull lived with her husband and their four children (and a daughter in law) in Kushkak village1, leading a simple life, surviving daily hardships born out of poverty but still content.

Over recent years, her husband experienced excruciating leg pain which eventually made him unable to work. This left Gull and her young sons to financially provide for their family. Despite the economic challenges and all the household chores she was responsible for, Gull persevered, tending eleven sheep, that provided them wool to make rugs, and extracting dairy produce for household food. In times of dire needs, they would also sell their lambs. The sheep alone were not enough to provide a sufficient source of income for their family, especially if Gull wanted to save for her children’s weddings.

So, to make an extra income, Gull would take up laundry jobs for fellow villagers, earning either cash or clothing for her family. Meanwhile, her sons pursued their father’s former line of work, gathering animal dung to dry and sell off at local markets. This lifestyle and responsibilities left these young boys with no opportunity or time to pursue education.

On Sunday, October 7th, while in Herat city, seeking medical care for her six-year-old daughter, Gull overheard news of an earthquake in the Zindajan district. Anxious and distressed, she hurried back to her village, where she was met with scenes of utter devastation. The once familiar landscape had transformed into a clutter of debris echoing with desperate cries for help. Overwhelmed and confused, Gull rushed towards her own home. The house was nothing but rubble. The earthquake had claimed the lives of her husband and 11-year-old son, both trapped inside the house during the disaster. “My daughter-in-law and married daughter, who was visiting us that day, managed to survive as both were baking bread under a tent just outside our home. My 13-year-old son who was near the house at the time sustained injuries to his hand.”

With no health facility in their village or nearby, Gull’s elder son took his injured brother to Herat city to seek medical care a few days following the earthquake. They spent AFN 5,000 (Approx. USD 66) on the treatment, borrowing the sum from their fellow villagers.

In the wake of her husband’s passing, Gull found herself assuming a decision-making role for their family, a responsibility previously held by her late husband. As her teenage son (15-year-old2) was not yet mature, she became the de facto head of the household. But a household without any shelter or roof. A household without any means of sustenance. A household left isolated and in total despair.

Voicing her frustration over the unequal distribution of aid following the quake, Gull cited the restriction on women as a hindrance for her to engage in assessments compared to the men in her community. She expressed concern that her son is also often mis-guided by others when out to find humanitarian assistance or an income. Following the earthquake, their family received a tent from the government, but it was torn apart by strong winds and storms, leaving them without any form of shelter again.

Fortunately, Community World Service Asia’s emergency team identified Gull as a potential project participant during their initial assessment on October 14th. The next day, with the immediate support of long-term partners, CWS Japan, the team was able to provide the distressed family with a winterised tent. This initiative extended to a total of hundred most severely impacted families/households in Kushkak village, aiming to support them with essential shelter to endure the harsh weather conditions.

“In a timely intervention, CWSA came to our aid, providing my family with a new tent, which we promptly set up. Currently, all the affected families in the village are reliant on tents as their living quarters, with everyday necessities destroyed by the disaster. Relief organizations have stepped in to provide cooked meals and clean drinking water as the usual water sources were also rendered unusable,” shared Gull. Expressing gratitude for the assistance received, she emphasized the pressing need for a more long-term solution, especially in light of the harsh winter conditions and the challenges posed by blocked roads due to heavy snowfall.

Gull expressed concerns about the lack of security and privacy for her family under the tents, as they were set up in close proximity to each other. The shared living space, in particular, posed challenges for women like herself. In her own words, performing daily ablutions became a challenging task, given the lack of privacy due to the close proximity of the tents, which allowed others to easily observe their activities. Moreover, the communal nature of the temporary bathroom facilities added to the discomfort, prompting Gull to time her visits when others were asleep. She would often have one of her sons accompany her, stationed outside the bathroom to ensure her safety during her brief trips. These concerns highlight the need for improved privacy and security measures within the temporary settlement to ensure the well-being and dignity of the residents, particularly women, children and other vulnerable groups.

With the impending winter, Gull’s anxiety about their living conditions is increasing. Their village, where they are now temporarily settled, is nestled in a treeless desert landscape prone to fierce, relentless winds that often tear away tents. The two intense dust storms that immediately followed the earthquake served as a stark reminder of the fierce weather conditions they face. With her daughter-in-law expecting to give birth during the coming winter, Gull’s foremost concern is the well-being of her unborn grandchild. She knows the harsh winter could be life-threatening for an infant if not provided proper living conditions, nutrition and shelter.

The family’s daily routines have undergone a significant shift, with one of her sons tending to their much smaller herd of four sheep (with the rest taken away by the earthquake), while the elder son continues the arduous task of sifting through the debris to recover any salvageable belongings. Gull herself has been dealing with hearing loss, a consequence of the trauma caused by the earthquake that shattered her life in a blink of an eye. Her family is still experiencing post-traumatic shock, with even the slightest sound evoking fear and panic.

Gull emphasized on the urgent need for temporary shelters, along with financial assistance to meet their essential needs, including food, clothing, fuel, and medical expenses. These provisions are essential for the family’s survival and well-being.

  1. Zindajan district, Herat province ↩︎
  2. Though he was married off at the age of 14 years which was a common practice in Kushkak and neighbouring villages, despite the legal definition of childhood extending until the age of 18 in Afghanistan. ↩︎