20220711 earthquake
The quake hit early Sunday northwest of Herat. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Herat, Afghanistan: A magnitude 6.3 earthquake shook western Afghanistan on Sunday, the US Geological Survey said, wracking the same region where more than 1,000 people were killed in tremors last week.

The quake hit just after 8:00 am (0330 GMT) with an epicentre 33 kilometres (20 miles) northwest of Herat city, capital of the same-named western province, the USGS said.

It was followed by a magnitude 5.5 aftershock 20 minutes later.

There were no immediate reports of casualties, however disaster management officials told AFP they were still investigating.

An AFP reporter in Herat city said most residents were still sleeping outside a week after last Saturday's devastating quake, fearful of aftershocks pulling down their homes in the night.

However some had begun to sleep inside again.

"Herat's people are panicked and scared," said 27-year-old shopkeeper Hamid Nizami. "It's Allah's blessing that it happened during the day, people were awake."

On October 7, another magnitude 6.3 quake and eight powerful aftershocks jolted the same part of Herat, toppling swathes of rural homes.

The Taliban government said more than 1,000 people were killed. Late Saturday, the World Health Organization (WHO) put the figure at nearly 1,400.

Days after the initial quakes, with thousands of terrified residents left without shelter and volunteers digging for survivors, another tremor of the same intensity killed one person and injured 130 others.

The quakes were followed by dust storms which damaged the tents survivors were living in.

"Many of our countrymen don't have any place to live and nights are getting colder," said shopkeeper Nizami.

'Can't live here'

The WHO says nearly 20,000 people have been affected by the string of disasters, with women and children making up most of the fatalities.

Thousands of residents are now living around the ruins of homes where entire families were wiped out in an instant.

Forty-year-old Mohammad Naeem told AFP he lost 12 relatives, including his mother, after Saturday's earthquakes.

"We can't live here anymore. You can see, our family got martyred here. How could we live here?"

Earthquakes are frequent in Afghanistan and in the west and centre of the country are mostly caused by the Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates jutting against each other.

Providing shelter on a large scale will be a challenge for Afghanistan's Taliban authorities, who seized power in August 2021, and have fractious relations with international aid organisations.

"That area is very cold, staying there after the evening is very difficult," said public health minister Qalandar Ebad.

"We know they could live there in tents for one month, but more than that would probably be very difficult."

Most homes in rural Afghanistan are made of mud and built around wooden support poles, with little in the way of steel or concrete reinforcement.

Multi-generational extended families generally live under the same roof, meaning serious earthquakes can devastate communities.

Afghanistan is already suffering a dire humanitarian crisis, with the widespread withdrawal of foreign aid following the Taliban's return to power.