Organized rescue efforts are struggling to reach the site of an earthquake in Afghanistan who have killed more than 1,000 people as survivors dig through the rubble with their hand to find those still missing.
In the hard-hit Gayan district of Paktika province, villagers stood on top of mudstone that was once a home. Others walked carefully through dirt corridors, grabbing damaged walls with exposed wooden beams to find their way.
The quake was Afghanistan’s deadliest in two decades, officials said the toll may increase. It is estimated that 1,500 other people were reported injured, the state-run news agency said.
The quake struck early Wednesday morning in an area near the Pakistani border. Rescue efforts have been complicated by the fact that many countries have suspended or cut aid to Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover last year.
How – and whether the Taliban allow – the world to offer aid remained in doubt as rescuers without heavy equipment dug through rubble as best they could.
As a sign of the confused work between the Taliban and the rest of the world, the Taliban had not formally asked the UN to mobilize international search and rescue teams or provide equipment from neighboring countries in addition to the few dozen ambulances and several helicopters. sent in by Afghan authorities, said Ramiz Alakbarov, UN Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan.
Rescue efforts have been further hampered by the harsh roads in rural areas and the recent heavy rains and hail.
“We ask the Islamic Emirate and the whole country to come forward and help us,” said a survivor who gave his name as Hakimullah. “We are with nothing and have nothing, not even a tent to live in.”
The full extent of the destruction among the villages hidden in the mountains slowly came to light. But officials from several UN agencies said the Taliban allowed full access to the area.
The UN said its World Food Program (WFP) sent food and logistics equipment to affected areas with the initial aim of supporting 3,000 households.
“The Afghan people are already facing an unprecedented crisis after decades of conflict, severe drought and an economic downturn,” said Gordon Craig, WFP’s deputy director in Afghanistan. “The quake will only add to the already massive humanitarian needs they endure on a daily basis.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted that eight trucks of food and other necessities from Pakistan had arrived in Paktika. He also said on Thursday that two planes with humanitarian aid from Iran and another from Qatar had arrived in Afghanistan.
But other Taliban officials stressed the difficulties they had in upscaling rescue efforts.
Gholam Ghaos Naseri, Taliban’s Deputy Minister of Natural Disaster Management, said: “We have sent dozens of people to rescue people from the rubble, but they are not enough. Iran has promised us help and their rescue team is on its way to the area.
“We urge the international humanitarian community, NGOs and humanitarian organizations not to leave our people alone in this terrible time. Help our people. For now we need things like food, tents, clothes and drugs.
“We have sent dozens of people to rescue people from under the rubble, but that is not enough. Iran has promised us help and their rescue team is on its way to the area. We call for international humanitarian aid.”
Mohammad Ismail Muawiyah, a spokesman for the Taliban’s top military commander in Paktika, told Reuters: “We can not reach the area, the networks are too weak, we are trying to get updates,” referring to telephone networks.
A volunteer, Faiz Muhammad Sameem, 36, described the rescue effort in Paktika: “Ambulances, helicopters and motorcycles, all involved in emergency aid, but the hospital does not have enough facilities, first aid was provided at the hospital.
“It’s a horrible scene. There were people who lost all their family members. Some have lost 10 family members, or some people have lost entire families.
“I have seen a five-year-old child who was the only survivor in his family of 13 members. I do not know how he will survive or whether he knows what he has lost. It is unbearable.”
However, it can be difficult to get more direct international aid: Many countries, including the United States, send humanitarian aid to Afghanistan through the UN and other such organizations to avoid putting money in the hands of the Taliban.
But in a news bulletin on Thursday, Afghanistan’s state television made a point of acknowledging that US President Joe Biden – their former enemy – condoled over the earthquake and had promised help.
Biden on Wednesday ordered “USAid and other federal government partners to assess U.S. response options to help those most affected,” a White House statement said.