Afghanistan’s Taliban-led government has called for more international aid as it struggles to cope with the devastating earthquake in a mountainous eastern region which has left more than 1,000 people dead and many more wounded.
As the war-torn nation was already hit by an economic crisis, the hardline Islamist leadership said sanctions imposed by Western countries following the withdrawal of US-led coalition forces last year meant it was handicapped in its ability to deal with Wednesday’s disaster in Khost and Paktika provinces.
The death toll rose steadily on Wednesday as news of casualties filtered in from hard-to-reach areas in the mountains, and the country’s top leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, warned it was likely to rise further.
The quake affected areas already suffering from the effects of heavy rain, causing rock falls and mudslides that hampered rescue efforts.
Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, head of the information and culture department at Paktika, described the aftermath as people dug through the rubble to retrieve the dead and wounded: “People are digging grave after grave.”
Footage released by the Taliban showed residents digging a long trench to bury the dead. Huzaifa said more than 1,500 people were injured, many critically. “People are still trapped under the rubble,” he told reporters.
The disaster comes as Afghanistan struggling with a severe economic crisis that has gripped it since the Taliban took power last year, and amid rapidly rising concerns over the ability of the Taliban and international agencies to respond quickly.
While large international agencies still operate in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s seizure of power saw other agencies and governments reduce their aid programs in a country where about 80% of the budget came from foreign aid.
Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a senior Taliban official, said the government “appreciated and welcomed” aid promised by some other governments and relief organizations such as Médecins Sans Frontières and the Red Cross.
But the 5.9 magnitude earthquake – originally reported as 6.1 and the country’s deadliest in more than 20 years – had caused such extensive damage and suffering that more help was needed.
“Unfortunately, the government is under sanctions, so it is financially unable to help the people to the extent necessary,” he said.
“Aid needs to be scaled up on a very large scale because this is a devastating earthquake that has not been experienced for decades.”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the global agency has “fully mobilized” to help, with UN officials confirming the deployment of health teams and supplies of medicine, food, trauma kits and emergency shelters to the quake zone.
Tomas Niklasson, the EU’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan, tweeted: “The EU is monitoring the situation and is ready to coordinate and provide EU emergency assistance to the people and communities affected.”
Pakistan, where officials said one person was killed in the quake, said it would send emergency aid – including tents – across the border.
Médecins Sans Frontières said their team in Khost and the Afghan capital Kabul were in contact with the Taliban government and other organizations to lend support.
“We know that many of the health facilities are under-resources, and a natural disaster like this will push them in the affected area to their limits,” said MSF Afghanistan. said in a tweet.
That It informs the British Red Cross its team organized the dispatch of food, medicine, housing, water and temporary shelter to the region, which is close to the border with Pakistan.
The disaster poses a major challenge for the Taliban, who have largely isolated the country as a result of their harsh Islamist policies – especially the subjugation of women and girls.
Even before the Taliban took power, Afghanistan’s emergency response team was stretched to deal with the natural disasters that frequently hit the country.
But with only a handful of airworthy planes and helicopters left since the Taliban returned to power, any immediate response to the recent disaster is further limited.
Karim Nyazai was in the provincial capital and immediately returned to find his village destroyed and 22 members of his extended family died.
“I was away from my family, who live in a remote village in the Gyan district. I went there as soon as I could find a car early in the morning,” he told the Guardian.
“The whole village is buried. Those who could manage to get out before everything collapsed managed to take the bodies of their loved ones out of the rubble. There were corpses wrapped in blankets everywhere.
“I lost 22 members of my [extended family] including my sister and three of my brothers. More than 70 people in the village died. “
A survivor, Arup Khan, 22, who was pulled out of a collapsed guesthouse, described the moment the earthquake struck. “It was a horrible situation. There were shouts everywhere. The kids and my family were under the mud.”
The United States, whose troops helped overthrow the original Taliban regime and remained in Afghanistan for two decades until Washington pulled them out last year, was “deeply saddened” by the quake, the White House said.
“President Biden is monitoring developments and has instructed USAID (US Agency for International Development) and other federal government partners to assess US response capabilities to help those most affected,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.
Wednesday’s earthquake took place around noon. 1.30 at a depth of 10 km (six miles), about 47 km southwest of Khost, according to the United States Geological Survey.
It felt as far away as Lahore in Pakistan, 480 km from the epicenter of Khost.