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Children, women make up most victims of recent Afghan earthquakes, WHO finds

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Women and children make up two-thirds of the victims of the recent earthquakes in Afghanistan who were hospitalised with severe injuries, the head of the World Health Organization’s emergency response in the country said on Monday.

The Taliban administration said at least 2,400 people were killed and over 2,000 injured in Saturday’s quakes which were among the world’s deadliest this year, after temblors in Turkey and Syria in which an estimated 50,000 people were killed.

“The earthquake happened around 11 in the morning, when men were out of the houses, so majority of those who are injured and died are women and children who were inside the houses at the time,” WHO’s Dr Alaa AbouZeid said.

“Two-thirds of those with severe injuries who are admitted in the hospital I have seen yesterday are children and women,” he said, referring to his time in Herat following the quake.

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He also warned that financing the humanitarian operations remained critical, with global attention and funding shifting away from Afghanistan. That could be attributed to competing or emerging crises around the world, such in the Middle East and Ukraine, and amid concerns over Taliban restrictions on women, diplomats and aid officials say.

AbouZeid said it was “devastating” to see the number of children in hospital in critical condition. “I have seen a child like 3-4 months old with head trauma, due to the earthquake,” he said.

Head trauma can cause long-lasting debilitating effects or disabilities, AbouZeid said. The WHO’s response teams were taking the matter seriously, given the impact of such injuries on the victim and their families who would need to support them in the long run, he said.

Afghan women mourn relatives killed in an earthquake at a burial site in Zenda Jan district in Herat province. Photo :AFP

While the response teams saved many lives, hospitals need to be better equipped to deal with further casualties and similar situations in future, he said.

Afghanistan’s healthcare system, largely reliant on foreign aid, has faced crippling cuts in the two years since the Taliban took over and much international assistance, forming the backbone of the economy, was halted.

The UN’s humanitarian office has announced US$5 million worth of assistance for the quake response, but immediate material support has come from a limited few countries.

“The news diverted to what’s going on in the Middle East over the past two days and there was very little attention” towards the existing crisis in Afghanistan, he said.

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