Nazir* (36) lost 7 members of his family when their houses collapsed during a 5.9 M earthquake in Afghanistan
Credit: Aashiqullah Mandozai / Save the Children

Scores of children lost their parents and siblings in the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that devastated parts of south-east Afghanistan on Wednesday, leaving them terrified and at risk of abuse and exploitation, Save the Children said. 

The country’s deadliest earthquake in two decades killed around 770 people and injured nearly 1,500. Aftershocks and heavy rains left communities stranded from help in the immediate aftermath. 

Twelve-year-old Maryam* was buried under the rubble for three hours. She said she could hear rescuers walking above her, but no matter how loudly she called out, they couldn’t hear her. Eventually she was rescued but her father, stepmother, two young sisters and her brother were all killed when the roof of their home – made from mud and wood – caved in on top of them. 

Maryam’s uncle Nazir*, is now taking care of his niece. Seven members of their extended family were also killed in the quake and four were severely injured. Nazir wasn’t at home at the time of the earthquake. 

“My phone rang in the middle of the night and the person told me that my family was injured due to the earthquake. I came here [to my family’s compound] and found out that some of my family members are no longer alive,” Nazir says. 

“I thought the world was ending when I saw my family dead. My nephew [who died] was the most beloved. I look at his photos every day.”

Chris Nyamandi, Save the Children Country Director in Afghanistan, said: 

“Children are terrified in the wake of this disaster. Not only have many of them lost loved ones, some were also buried alive under the rubble and had to wait for hours to be rescued. The ongoing aftershocks are adding to the pain and distress they have already experienced as they fear they will be buried all over again. 

“These children will need immediate support as well as ongoing specialised care to help them recover and deal with the traumatic events they have faced. Children in south-east Afghanistan and across the country were already living in unimaginable conditions. Millions are going hungry every single day and exist on stale bread. If they’re lucky, they’ll find some plain rice to eat once a week. 

“Children cannot survive on bread alone and if the international community does not provide urgent support – for the earthquake and the wider crisis in Afghanistan – and address the country’s economic crisis, then we will see thousands of children die needlessly in the coming months.” 

Save the Children has sent teams to the worst affected areas of Paktika province and will be providing families with emergency cash grants to help them buy materials to rebuild their homes and other urgent supplies, such as food and clean water. The agency is also conducting further assessments in the coming days to determine children’s needs. 

Save the Children has been supporting communities and protecting children’s rights across Afghanistan since 1976, including during periods of conflict, regime change, and natural disasters. We have programmes in nine provinces and work with partners in an additional six provinces. 

Since the Taliban regained control in August 2021, we’ve been scaling up our response to support the increasing number of children in need. We’re delivering health, nutrition, education, child protection, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene and food security and livelihoods support.

*names have been changed for safety reasons