A destroyed town in eastern Afghanistan is attempting to come back to life as help slowly makes its way into the remote region. The community is located only 10 kilometres (six miles) from the epicentre of the deadly earthquake that struck this week.
Wuchkai is located three hours away from the nearest city with any kind of significance, and the only way to get there is via a narrow, rutted, dirt road that, in some places, has room for just one vehicle.
The community is cut off from the outside world; it does not have access to electricity or running water, and it is spread out over a large basin that is enclosed by towering hills and divided by a river that has almost completely dried up.
The epicentre of Wednesday’s earthquake, which measured 5.9 on the Richter scale, was located on the other side of the hills that face the settlement. As a result, a significant number of the homes, stores, and workshops in the town were destroyed.
More than 1,000 people had been murdered in the earthquake, making it the worst natural disaster to strike the country in nearly 20 years; Wuchkai alone was responsible for at least three dozen of those deaths.
Now, the survivors are frantically relying on the assistance convoys that have begun to arrive as they attempt to find refuge amid the rubble of their homes.
The collapse of the single-story home in which Jan and 11 members of his extended family were sleeping on Wednesday morning resulted in the deaths of all 11 of Jan’s relatives.
Because almost every family has lost at least one member, and the majority of families have lost many more, those who are still alive are banding together to pool their resources. Jan now lives in three enormous tents set up adjacent to their demolished homes along with members of four other families, including fifteen other women and about twenty children.
The assistance that was requested has been delivered, but he is concerned about how long it will continue. Jan is heard saying, “The tents, food, and flour that we have gotten over the last three days are not enough,” while a community fire used for cooking sends smoke spiralling over the improvised camping spot.
Infants are crying for attention as other children are playing nearby, but the older children don’t appear to notice the cries of the younger children.
Chickens prance about the dusty enclosure, picking at nothing with their beaks while a cow that is tied to a pole nearby ruminates in the background.
The adult men of the community sometimes go through the rubble of their destroyed houses in the hope of recovering any treasures that may have been hidden among the rubble. However, they proceed with extreme caution since any walls that are still intact have cracks in them and are at risk of collapsing at any given moment. Furthermore, aftershocks are still being felt.
On Thursday morning, a powerful earthquake in the same area resulted in the deaths of five people. In the middle of Wuchkai, a steady stream of assistance vehicles enter, throwing up clouds of mud on roadways that may or may not be finally drying up after days of incessant rain.
The larger organisations, such as the World Food Program and Doctors Without Borders, seem to be well organised; nevertheless, the smaller Afghan-led distribution operations are very disorganised.
On Thursday, tensions rose when hundreds of villagers clambered over the back of a vehicle in an effort to take bags of beans that had been given by a businessman from Kabul. The donation had been made by the truck’s driver.
A group of armed Taliban members kidnapped a young guy who stood out for his particularly boisterous demeanour and drove him away while abusing him.
Not far away, Kawsar Uddin, 20, and his uncle are carrying a tent that has the potential to become the family’s temporary residence. They are hunched over from the weight of the bundle and are unable to straighten their backs.
Uddin is sceptical of the reason behind the incoming help, and he accuses relief organisations of creating “photo ops” in response to the influx of aid that is now arriving.
“They have supplied food and tents but some of them are conducting business on the blood of Afghans,” he claims. “I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”