Afghanistan: MSF is responding to Herat earthquake

Three 6.3-magnitude earthquakes and many aftershocks have struck western Afghanistan since October 7. Here's how MSF teams are responding on the ground.

An Afghan man digs through the remains of his house beside his mother after the earthquake in Herat, Afghanistan.

Afghanistan 2023 © Paul Odongo/MSF

Western Afghanistan has experienced three 6.3-magnitude earthquakes and many aftershocks in less than two weeks in October. Together, the quakes and aftershocks have killed more than 2,000 people. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is supporting Herat Regional Hospital, which has received hundreds of injured patients since the first quake.

A group of women survivors of the October 15 earthquake in Afghanistan sit under a tent.
Afghanistan 2023 © Paul Odongo/MSF

Timeline of Herat earthquakes

October 7: The first quake

At around 11:10 a.m. local time on Saturday, October 7, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck western Afghanistan, followed by several aftershocks. By evening, 300 wounded people had been received at the MSF-supported Herat Regional Hospital.

“In the hospital’s emergency room, the Ministry of Public Health is currently handling all incoming wounded patients and has requested supplementary medical supplies. In response, we've dispatched mass casualty kits to treat up to 400 wounded patients and stationed a medical team at the hospital's emergency room for further support if necessary. As rescue efforts and the search for wounded people continue in affected areas, we are monitoring the situation and will adapt our response as needed.”

To prepare for potential additional needs, MSF set up six medical tents outside the hospital to help accommodate the influx of patients. 

“When the first earthquake hit this morning, our teams rushed to evacuate all the children who were admitted, many in critical condition, from the pediatric inpatient wards of the hospital, which are run by MSF,” said MSF project coordinator Lisa Macheiner on October 7. “This was a precautionary measure in case aftershocks damaged the building. The facility was not damaged by the earthquake.

October 11: A second 6-3 magnitude quake

On October 11, another large 6.3-magnitude earthquake shook the region, followed by smaller tremors. MSF teams set up an additional four tents at the hospital, which received 117 more injured patients.

October 15: The latest quake

A third 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit Herat around 8 a.m. on Sunday, October 15. Teams at Herat Regional Hospital received more than 100 injured patients within the first 24 hours of the third quake.

MSF teams assess earthquake aftermath in Cha Hak Village in Herat province, Afghanistan.
Sanjaib Village, Injil District, Herat Province

MSF teams assess the earthquake aftermath in the village of Cha Hak, where the pictured building (left) is the last structure left standing. Afghanistan 2023 © Paul Odongo/MSF

How MSF supports Herat Regional Hospital

MSF has provided medical supplies, assistance with triage for emergency cases, and management of care for stabilized patients in the emergency tents. We also manage the hospital's pediatric section, which includes triage, emergency room, inpatient and ambulatory therapeutic feeding centers, a pediatric intensive care unit, and an intermediate care unit.

Q&A: The situation in Herat

On October 9, MSF's head of programs in Afghanistan, Yahya Kalilah, shared updates from Herat.

What is the situation in Herat now? 

Today, Herat is still experiencing aftershocks, which is unsettling for everyone. According to data from the Ministry of Public Health and Herat Regional Hospital, there have been 2,445 reported deaths and 2,440 injuries in Herat province so far. However, as you can imagine, in situations like this, data is hard to verify and the figures may change.

As of today, over 540 patients have been treated at Herat Regional Hospital where MSF teams are providing support, and other patients have been treated in private hospitals. 

Most of the cases are women and children, likely because when the earthquake hit mid-morning, they were the ones at home.

How is MSF responding?

This morning, there were still 340 patients in the regional hospital, mostly classified as mild to moderate [cases]. Many are in tents set up by MSF because they don’t have homes to return to, even if they could be discharged. The authorities are looking into how to accommodate them.  

MSF teams in different parts of Afghanistan sent additional supplies yesterday. The Herat team donated mass casualty medical supplies to the regional hospital, enough to treat 400 people.  

A team made up of operational, medical, and logistical staff left today to assess some of the most affected areas outside of the city and to provide medical first aid.  

What will happen next? 

MSF teams continue to be very busy and will continue to support Herat Regional Hospital. We will adapt our response if needed, as the situation becomes clearer both in the city and in the districts. The most immediate need at the hospital right now is to find shelter for people who have lost everything. 

Shipping containers in Herat Regional Hospital
Shipping containers in Herat Regional Hospital

Due to the earthquakes, children admitted to the pediatric inpatient wards have been temporarily transferred to these shipping containers inside the Herat Regional Hospital compound. Afghanistan 2023 © Paul Odongo/MSF