The magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck early Wednesday near the town of Khost on the Pakistani border. At least 1,500 people have been reported injured – but officials warn the number is likely to rise as many families slept in flimsy housing structures when the quake struck.
Many homes in the area are made of mud, wood and other materials that are vulnerable to weather damage – and the quake coincided with heavy monsoon rains, increasing the risk of collapse.
Photos from the nearby Paktika province, a rural and mountainous region where most of the deaths have been reported, show houses that have been destroyed. About 2,000 homes are believed to have been destroyed, according to the UN. Some people spent the night sleeping in temporary outdoor shelters while rescuers searched for survivors with the flashlight.
Doctors and emergency personnel from across the country gather on site with the assistance of some international agencies such as the World Health Organization.
However, aid may be limited as many organizations withdrew from the aid-dependent country after the Taliban took power in August last year.
The Taliban government has deployed emergency resources, including several helicopters and dozens of ambulances, and has offered compensation to the families of the victims.
It also called for foreign aid and pleaded for “the generous support of all countries, international organizations, individuals and foundations” on Wednesday.
Limited international assistance
The quake has exacerbated the problems that are already plaguing Afghanistan.
Although the economic crisis has threatened for years, the result of conflict and drought, it plunged to new depths after the Taliban took power, prompting the United States and its allies to freeze about $ 7 billion of the country’s foreign reserves and cut off international funding.
Few aid organizations are left, and those that do are stretched out. On Wednesday, the WHO said it had mobilized “all resources” from across the country, with on-site teams providing medicine and emergency assistance. But, as one WHO official put it, “resources are overloaded here, not just for this region.”
Experts and officials say the most urgent immediate needs include medical care and transportation for the wounded, shelter and supplies for the displaced, food and water and clothing.
The UN has distributed medical supplies and sent mobile health teams to Afghanistan – but warned that it has no search and rescue capabilities and that regional neighbors have little capacity to step in.
The United States no longer has a presence in Afghanistan following the full withdrawal of its troops and the collapse of the former US-backed Afghan government. Like almost all other nations, it has no official ties with the Taliban.
Turkey is the country best placed to provide assistance, said Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan. He said the Turkish embassy in Afghanistan was “waiting for the formal request.”
Turkey’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that the Turkish Red Crescent, which operates in Afghanistan, has sent humanitarian aid to the victims. On Thursday, a Taliban spokesman said humanitarian aid had also arrived from Qatar, Iran and Pakistan, with planes and trucks transporting items including medicine, tents and tarpaulins.
It is estimated that $ 15 million in aid is needed to respond to the disaster, Alakbarov said – a figure that is likely to continue to rise as information flows into the situation on the ground.
“Our team does not have specific equipment to take people from under the rubble,” Alakbarov said. “This must for the most part rely on the efforts of the de facto authorities, who also have certain limitations in this regard … I do not have the detailed reports on how well they are able to operate and install such machines for these mountain areas . “
Information, including damage assessments, is limited for now, with telecommunications disrupted in remote areas and poor weather conditions hampering transportation, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
“The country is toppled by the effects of decades of conflict, prolonged severe drought, the effects of other intense climate-related disasters, extreme economic difficulties, a affected health system and system-wide gaps,” the IFRC said on Wednesday. for more global support.
“Therefore, even if the disaster is localized, the scale of humanitarian needs will be massive.”