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Quake-hit Afghan village left in ruins

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Village life has always been tough for Afghans in the rugged mountains of the east, but compared to what they are enduring today it was paradise.

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A 5.9-magnitude earthquake rumbled through the area last Wednesday, killing more than 1,000 people, injuring three times that many, and leaving tens of thousands homeless.

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“If life before was not really good — because for years there was war — the earthquake has made it even harder for us,” says Malin Jan, who lost two daughters in the quake.

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All 14 houses in his village of Akhtar Jan were flattened, and survivors — including some from outlying hamlets — are now living in tents among the ruins.

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Two small makeshift camps have been set up in dusty gardens, with stunted grass grazed by three cows, a donkey, two goats and a flock of chickens.

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In tents pitched in a circle, about 35 families — more than 300 people including many children — are trying to survive.

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Living in such close proximity to non-relatives is anathema to Afghans — particularly in the conservative countryside where women rarely interact with strangers.

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Sanitary conditions are likely to deteriorate rapidly — there are no toilets, and people have to draw water from a well to wash.

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“Before the earthquake, life was nice and beautiful,” says villager Abdu Rahman Abid.

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“We had our houses and God was good.”

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He gives a gruesome count of those he lost in the rubble — his parents, his wife, three daughters, a son and a nephew.

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“The earthquake killed eight members of my family and my house is destroyed,” he says, looking weary.

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“There is a big difference now. Before we had our own houses and everything we needed. Now we have nothing and our families are living in tents.”

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Neighbour Malin Jan is already looking ahead, fearful of what the future holds.

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The harsh winter, which lasts almost five months in this remote mid-mountain region, will arrive in September.

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“If our children stay in this situation their lives will be in danger because of the rain and snow,” he says.

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Massoud Sakib, 37, who lost his wife and three daughters, also fears for the months ahead.

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“Even living in a house is difficult during winter, so if our houses are not rebuilt by then our lives will be in danger,” he says.

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On Saturday, the UN’s top official in the country, Ramiz Alakbarov, arrived from Kabul by helicopter to visit the region — including the village of Akhtar Jan — with representatives of each UN agency.

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Alakbarov was moved to tears as he met a young girl and was offered tea by a survivor, praising the “resilience and courage” of the people.

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But their tenacity only stretches so far.

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Interviewed by AFP, the Afghan minister of health, Qalandar Edad, warned of the “mental and psychological” suffering of victims.

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Malin Jan said the villagers were doing their best to help each other through the crisis.

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“When a family is hit by a tragedy, the others naturally come to surround and support them,” he said.

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“Everything is affected… we console each other.”

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But they cannot do it alone, adds villager Abdul Rahman Abib.

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“We ask the world to help us as long as we need it. It must share our pain.”

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Read more:

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China to provide $7.5 million in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan: Foreign ministry

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Taliban call for release of frozen funds after deadly Afghanistan earthquake

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Taliban government appeals for more aid after deadly Afghanistan earthquake

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