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Swiss send aid for Afghan earthquake victims

The earthquake in northern Afghanistan is thought to have left more than 30,000 people homeless Keystone

Switzerland is sending SFr350,000 in emergency aid to Afghanistan to help victims of Monday's devastating earthquake.

The earthquake, which hit northern Afghanistan, is thought to have claimed up to 1000 lives, and left tens of thousands homeless.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, or SDC, has an office in Kabul, which will now be strengthened by a relief coordinator from the SDC office in Islamabad, and by members of the Swiss Disaster Relief Unit.

Shelter urgently needed

Joachim Ahrens, spokesman for the SDC in Bern, told swissinfo that shelter for those made homeless by the earthquake was urgently needed.

“Unfortunately it seems tens of thousands of people have lost their homes,” he said. “So tents, blankets and shelter units are a priority.

“Our staff on the ground tell us there is also a serious lack of medical facilities, so the capacity of the hospitals in Kabul, Mazar e Sherif and in the smaller towns needs to be enhanced.

“In addition of course, as in any such emergency, adequate supplies of food and clean water are vital. Because of this we have water and sanitation experts available in the region.”

No role for Swiss Rescue Chain

But, unlike in previous earthquakes, Switzerland will not be sending the Swiss Rescue Chain to help in the search for survivors.

“We are dealing with a region where the structure of the houses is very traditional,” explained Ahrens. “They are very low, so unlike with modern high rise buildings, there will be no air pockets or caves in the ruined buildings where people can survive for a couple of days and then be found by our rescue teams.”

The SFr350,000 pledged by the SDC is in addition to SFr20 million already budgeted for aid to Afghanistan by the Swiss government this year. The funds are disbursed mainly by the SDC’s partner organisations in the region, such as the ICRC and UN agencies.

However Ahrens said that, depending on the assessment of the situation provided by the SDC’s relief coordinator, who will arrive in Afghanistan from Pakistan on Thursday, more money could be made available.

by Imogen Foulkes

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR