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New quake strikes Afghanistan

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | April 12, 2002

An earthquake hit northern Afghanistan Friday, striking the same area a March 25 quake left tens of thousands homeless.

The new temblor had a 5.8-magnitude, according to the National Earthquake Information Center. Worst hit was the village of Doabi, where many buildings reportedly collapsed, burying people under the rubble.

Nahrin -- devastated by the March 25 quake -- was also hit. Many people there are still living in tents after the March 25 quake leveled thousands of homes. Friday's quake collapsed still more buildings there.

Doabi is some 90 miles northeast of Kabul, where the quake was felt. Several villages nearby sustained damage as well.

On Friday morning, aid officials reported that at least 30 people had been killed and at least 100 were injured by the latest quake.

The March 25 quake killed 1,000 people and injured at least 500, according to the United Nations. It may have affected 100,000, reported the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). It hit Nahrin and at least 100 villages in a 10-mile circle around the market town, according to Action by Churches Together (ACT), a global alliance of faith-based relief and response organizations.

The latest quake was the third to strike Afghanistan since March 3, when a 7.2 quake -- the strongest to strike the Hindu Kush mountains in more than 15 years -- struck. The entire northern Afghanistan area has suffered for years from war and drought.

Any disaster that happens "adds yet another layer of need to the already critical needs that continue to multiply in Afghanistan," said Marvin Parvez, director of the Church World Service (CWS) Pakistan/Afghanistan program.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is one among several faith-based response organizations that are responding in the Nahrin area. After assessing damage from the March 26 quake in Nahrin, UMCOR found that many relief agencies quickly responded so that immediate needs of food and shelter were met.

However, UMCOR reported that there is a need for ongoing assistance with long-term recovery throughout the country. UMCOR is planning to establish an office in Kabul and is developing plans to choose a particular community, then offer assistance in a holistic way. UMCOR officials described their goal as reintegrating refugees that are returning to the community and providing assistance with agriculture, education, youth work, and community development.

Members of ACT -- including UMCOR -- reported that many people in the Nahrin area are still in a state of shock over the devastation of the March 25 earthquake.

Another ACT member, Hungarian Interchurch Aid, is also monitoring the situation closely. CWS Pakistan/Afghanistan and Norwegian Church Aid -- also ACT members -- sent thousands of tents, quilts, ground sheets, jerry cans, and blankets to the area where local Afghan partners are distributing relief items. Another ACT member, Diakonie Emergency Aid, provided pre-positioned relief goods for earthquake survivors.

United Nations officials described the relief operation following the March 25 quake as "a logistical nightmare" because the mountainous remote area was difficult to access. Nevertheless faith-based groups were able to get aid to the area quickly.

From Nahrin it takes seven hours to reach a paved road. Farming is nearly impossible in the rugged terrain that is rife with boulders, rocks, pebbles, and stone. Many roads leading to the area are still blocked by landslides.

Aid workers said they were concerned that rains could make the situation worse. The workers reported a big need for earthquake-proof housing, water and sanitation facilities, and improved irrigation.

MCC is also responding to needs in Afghanistan by purchasing relief supplies and clean water in Nahrin. MCC's financial support will help buy supplies distributed by Help the Afghan Children Inc., a U.S.-based humanitarian agency that will also provide well-drilling or water purification equipment in areas where the March 25 quake destroyed water supplies. Some Help the Afghan Children staff live and work in Nahrin and are working with the Afghan Ministry of Health to determine the best locations for new wells.

Families in Nahrin have struggled to obtain clean water since the earthquakes struck, said Suraya Sadeed, director of Help the Afghan Children.

MCC is also funding the installation of small-scale hydro power plants for villages in northeastern Afghanistan. International Assistance Mission -- MCC's local partner that's organizing the project -- has helped build 14 hydro power plants in Afghan villages over the past several years. Communities use the plants to run irrigation pumps, flour mills, and electric lighting.

In October and December MCC shipped 40,000 blankets and comforters to Iran, and most of those have been distributed by the Iranian Red Crescent Society to displaced families in Afghanistan. The Iranian Red Crescent Society also purchased ground sheets and tents with MCC funds.

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