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AKHTAR JAN, Afghanistan: Village life has always been difficult for Afghans in the rugged eastern mountains, but compared to what they endure today, it was paradise.
A 5.9 magnitude earthquake rocked the region last Wednesday, killing more than 1,000 people, injuring three times as many and leaving tens of thousands homeless.
“If life before was not really nice – because for years there was war – the earthquake made it even harder for us,” says Malin Jan, who lost two daughters in the quake. earthen.
All 14 houses in his village of Akhtar Jan have been razed and survivors, including some from outlying hamlets, now live in tents among the ruins.
Two small makeshift camps have been set up in dusty gardens, with stunted grass grazed by three cows, a donkey, two goats and a herd of chickens.
In tents erected in a circle, about 35 families – more than 300 people including many children – are trying to survive.
Living in such close proximity to non-relatives is anathema to Afghans – especially in the conservative countryside where women rarely interact with outsiders.
Sanitary conditions are likely to deteriorate rapidly: there are no toilets and people have to draw water from a well to wash themselves.
“Before the earthquake, life was good and beautiful,” says villager Abdu Rahman Abid.
“We had our homes and God was good.”
He gives a gruesome tally of those he lost in the rubble – his parents, his wife, his three daughters, a son and a nephew.
“The earthquake killed eight members of my family and my house is destroyed,” he says, looking tired.
“There is a big difference now. Before, we had our own houses and everything we needed. Now we have nothing and our families live in tents.
Neighbor Malin Jan is already looking ahead, fearful of what the future holds.
The harsh winter, which lasts almost five months in this remote mid-mountain region, will arrive in September.
“If our children stay in this situation, their lives will be in danger because of the rain and snow,” he said.
Massoud Sakib, 37, who lost his wife and three daughters, also fears for the months to come.
“Even living in a house is difficult in winter, so if our houses are not rebuilt by then, our lives will be in danger,” he says.
On Saturday, the top UN official in the country, Ramiz Alakbarov, arrived from Kabul by helicopter to tour the area – including the village of Akhtar Jan – with representatives from each UN agency.
Alakbarov was moved to tears when he met a young girl and was offered tea by a survivor, praising the “resilience and courage” of the people.
But their tenacity only extends so far.
Questioned by AFP, the Afghan Minister of Health, Qalandar Edad, warned of the “mental and psychological” suffering of the victims.
Malin Jan said the villagers were doing their best to help each other during the crisis.
“When a family is hit by tragedy, others naturally come to surround and support them,” he said.
“Everything is affected… we console ourselves.”
But they cannot do it alone, adds villager Abdul Rahman Abib.
“We ask the world to help us as long as we need it. He must share our pain.

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