“This house killed my sister”: Children terrified of returning to their homes in earthquake-hit Afghanistan

Children in Paktika province, one of the areas hardest-hit by a 5.9 magnitude earthquake in Afghanistan nine days ago, are still terrified of returning to their homes where their loved ones were killed, Save the Children said.

Tremors and aftershocks continue to rock the region, triggering memories of the earthquake that has left 362,000 children and adults in urgent need of food, shelter and access to healthcare, clean water and sanitation services. Around 770 people – including 155 children – were killed in the earthquake and nearly 1,500 were injured.

Hakim*, 35, lost his two young daughters, a niece and nephew when their home caved in on top of them. He said his children and his brother’s children are still emotionally distressed about what has happened to them.

“Eight of the children cried when I brought them back to the destroyed house for the first time. Seeing the destruction and thinking about what had happened to them on the night of the earthquake, they were terrified of the house,” Hakim said.

“My nephew Farid* (4), asked me why I had brought him back to the house. I told him that we are going to re-build the house for you, and you will be living in the house again. He told me that he will destroy the house so we can’t come back to it again [because he is so scared of living in there again].”

Chris Nyamandi, Save the Children Country Director in Afghanistan, who visited families impacted by the earthquake this week, said:

“I have more than 20 years working in humanitarian disasters and what I have seen is truly shocking. People have lost everything – their clothes, their livestock, their homes and their loved ones. I also met a lot of families who are sleeping out in the open because there are huge cracks in their homes, and they are afraid that the aftershocks will cause their homes to collapse.

“I met children who are still in complete shock about what’s happened to them. They told me: ‘this home killed my sister. This home killed my brother. And I don’t want to go back inside there.’ It is truly heart-wrenching.

“This disaster would have been devastating on its own, but Afghanistan was already facing catastrophic levels of hunger, a collapse of the health system and severe economic hardship. This is an emergency within an emergency and children – not just in the earthquake impacted areas but across the country – need urgent support.

“Governments can – and must – urgently respond. First and foremost, they can provide financial support. This will enable the life-saving work taking place now and over the coming weeks, but also the longer-term work to help these communities recover.

“Critically, this support cannot come at the expense of the existing humanitarian appeal which only has about a third of the total required for 2022. This is a new, additional emergency, and requires new, additional funding. NGOs like Save the Children are currently drawing staff and resources from our existing humanitarian programmes to respond to the earthquake, which will have immediate impact if funding is not replenished.”

Save the Children has sent teams to the most impacted areas in Paktika province and is providing families with emergency cash grants to support them to buy shelter materials to rebuild their homes and to buy other urgent supplies, such as food and clean water and to pay for medical care. The agency is also conducting further assessments to determine children’s needs.

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