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Three strikes, but not out

Afghanistan, May 13, 2002

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    Children in DuAbi play in front of their their temporary shelter. A series of earthquakes in March and April devestated this region of northern Afghanistan. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps Photo:

When Taj Mohammad graduated from Kabul University Law School 12 years ago he had a different idea of how his life would be today. A barrister by training, Mr. Mohammad lives with his wife, Nasreen, and six children in a tent provided by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Their typical meal consists primarily of nan (Afghan bread) made possible through World Food Programme (WFP) wheat distributions.

This was hardly the life he had in mind for himself and his family. But Mr. Mohammad is not complaining. He is grateful to be alive. They have survived wars, refugee camps, and now a series of earthquakes that have devastated their village in Northern Afghanistan.

"In the tent next door," explains Mr. Mohammad, "lives my good friend. He lost his son in the earthquake and the body has still not been found. Everyday I go with him to dig through the ruins of the buildings, hoping we will find his boy and be able to give him a proper burial."

On March 25 and 26 two major tremors struck Nahrin district, Baghlan province. The tremors measured over 6.1 on the Richter scale and devasted several thousand homes, killing more than 1000 people in the area. Then, on April 12, just as the victims of the quakes were coming out of their shock, another 5.6 tremor hit. The epicenter was Nahrin. Mr. Mohammad’s village, DuAbi, is only a few kilometers away and was totally destroyed.

"Somehow our home survived the first two earthquakes," Mr. Mohammad said, "but the third quake was the end of our luck. We were home, sitting down to dinner, when it struck. All I can remember is grabbing my children and wife and running outside. I couldn't carry all the children and my eldest son was caught in the house as it fell. Mushalla ("thanks be to god"), we were able to dig him out and he survived."

Mercy Corps was among the first organizations to respond to the crisis and was able to provide immediate assistance to Mr. Mohammad and residents of Nahrin. The first Mercy Corps trucks arrived in Nahrin on March 27 and were immediately prepared for distribution. Six additional Mercy Corps trucks arrived in Nahrin early the following morning with additional emergency aid supplies. Mercy Corps had 15 local staff members in Nahrin and hired local day labourers to support the emergency effort. Mercy Corps and fellow-NGO organizations on the scene worked through the night distributing emergency relief supplies donated by World Vision International, Latter Day Saints (LDS) and the Taiwanese government. Mercy Corps distributed non-food items in 30 villages, including 6400 blankets from UNHCR and 300 tents from ACTED and International Rescue Committee.

Mr. Mohammad and his family have carried on with great determination, despite the havoc that has been wreaked on their lives. Mr. Mohammad still practices law, only now from a tent that serves as a court. He is responsible for determining punishment for criminal cases in his district. The family is anxious to begin to rebuild their home, but for now they will have to be patient. As a government employee, Mr. Mohammad has not been paid his salary for over a year. For now, the aid he has received keeps his family fed and sheltered, and he looks towards the day when he will have saved enough money to rebuild his home again.