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Thursday, 28 March, 2002, 17:37 GMT
Aid pours in for Afghan quake victims
Women gather around an aid worker waiting for medical treatment
Vital medical supplies have been sent to the region
Aid has begun pouring into the northern Afghan province of Baghlan in response to the devastating earthquake that hit the region on Monday.


The roads have been cleared and distribution has begun

ACTED aid co-ordinator Sherine Zaghow
Vital supplies of food, medicine and emergency shelter have been sent to the region after workers used explosives to clear roads leading to the province.

At least 700 people are now known to have died in the quake, and tens of thousands left homeless.

As time goes on and hopes fade, the emphasis of the relief work is shifting away from the search for survivors, to helping those in need of food and shelter and medical equipment.

"Everything is moving along quite well," Sherine Zaghow, an aid co-ordinator for the French relief agency ACTED, told the Associated Press news agency.

Devastation

The World Food Program has also begun distributing food and supplies in the northern Nahrin and Bakhar districts, and United Nations spokeswoman Rebecca Vetharanian Richards told French news agency AFP that "immediate needs" in the Nahrin region had also been met.

Tents are unloaded near Nahrin
Providing shelter is a priority

UN spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said that 5,000 families in Nahrin had been given supplies on Thursday, and would also be assisted tomorrow.

"(At present) 80% of families (in the Burkha and Nahrin districts) do need some kind of assistance," Ms Bunker told AFP.

She said that the number of casualties may be lower than originally feared.

"From what we know now, the original estimates were too high and we hope that will remain the case," she told AFP.

The UN currently puts the known death toll at about "between 700 to 800", she said, although others say that at least 1,000 people have died, and a further 100,000 are known to urgently need supplies.

Hopes fade

The tremors, which began on Monday evening, devastated the market town of Nahrin and nearby villages in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains.

Click here for a detailed map of the earthquake zone
Enlarge image Enlarge image
The earthquake is thought to have measured up to 6.0 on the Richter scale.

On Thursday, Afghanistan observed a national day of mourning for the victims of the earthquake.

Aerial surveys estimate that 90% of the houses in the area have been damaged, many of them severely.

Relief convoys have already arrived in most areas, and earlier the UN said that agencies had already distributed 1,000 tonnes of food, 2,000 tents and 10,000 blankets. Another 15,000 more tents are due to arrive.

Up to six Chinook helicopters landed in Nahrin early on Thursday loaded with wheat, blankets, dates, water, and army rations.

Clothing, mattresses, cooking sets, medical supplies and surgical units are also on the way, according to Ms Bunker.

With overnight temperatures dipping below freezing, providing adequate shelter for the survivors is a priority.

Rain predicted

Tens of thousands of people have spent a third night huddling in the open on frozen hillsides - their homes destroyed and the fear of continuing aftershocks still present.

The tremors continued on Thursday morning, bringing down more mud-brick buildings and terrifying already traumatised survivors.

Earthquake damage in Nahrin
Even now the aftershocks are continuing

The UN regional co-ordinator for northern Afghanistan, Farhana Faruqi, said rain was expected in the next few days, making it vital to distribute more tents and blankets.

Another concern is the scarcity of clean water in an area already gripped by drought for the past four years and water purification tablets are being sent.

"Rivers are muddy and contaminated, which is why water is a priority," Ms Bunker said.

Treating the injured

Our correspondent in Nahrin reports that aid is being delivered around the worst hit areas using trucks and donkeys.

"The supplies are taken home by donkey. In fact, some roads are almost congested with donkeys and their loads," she said.

A man feeds his injured cousin in Nahrin
The injured are being treated in makeshift medical centres

Many of the injured have been making their way down to makeshift medical clinics set up in Nahrin.

A mobile medical unit, along with four doctors and eight medics, from the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul is due to arrive in the town later on Thursday.

And a mobile hospital unit from the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry was heading from Tajikistan, Interfax news agency reported.

Meanwhile, teams of doctors from Medecins Sans Frontieres were being sent to look for injured survivors not able to make their way to Nahrin.

Some of the worst-hit provinces are so remote that aid has yet to reach them.

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 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Catherine Davis
"More relief supplies are arriving in the area all the time"
Afghan Interim Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah
"More aid is needed"

Talking PointFORUM
Afghanistan earthquake questionsAfghanistan earthquake
Your questions answered
See also:

28 Mar 02 | South Asia
Afghanistan quake: How to help
27 Mar 02 | South Asia
'Scenes of devastation' in quake zone
26 Mar 02 | South Asia
Quake relief effort
27 Mar 02 | South Asia
Search for Afghan quake survivors
26 Mar 02 | Sci/Tech
Hindu Kush: High-risk quake zone
07 Feb 02 | South Asia
Timeline: Afghanistan
15 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Afghanistan
27 Mar 02 | South Asia
In pictures: Afghan quake
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