Afghanistan earthquake kills 1,000: survivors dig by hand, questions remain over international aid to Taliban

Survivors are digging by hand in villages in eastern Afghanistan, which have been turned into rubble by a powerful earthquake that killed at least 1,000 people – as the Taliban and the international community rush to help victims of the disaster. had fled from his takeover conflict.

In the hard-hit Gaya district of Paktika province, villagers stood on mud bricks on top of what once used to be a house there. Others carefully walked through the dirt alleys, clutching at the damaged walls to make their way along the wooden beams.

The deadliest earthquake struck Afghanistan in two decades and officials said the death toll could rise. The state news agency said an estimated 1,500 others were injured.

The calamity triggered by a magnitude-six earthquake has thrown even more trouble at a country where millions of people are facing rising hunger and poverty, and between the US and NATO withdrawal nearly 10 months after the Taliban came to power. The health system has collapsed.

The takeover resulted in significant international funding cuts, and much of the world has abandoned the Taliban government.

How the world would offer aid – and whether the Taliban would allow it – without heavy equipment as rescuers dug through the rubble with their bare hands.

“We ask the Islamic Emirate and the entire country to come forward and help us,” said a survivor who gave his name as Hakimullah.

“We have nothing and we have nothing, not even a tent to live in.”

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An Afghan man sits near his home that was destroyed in an earthquake in Spera District, southwestern part of Afghanistan’s Khost province, Wednesday, June 22, 2022. A powerful earthquake struck a rugged, mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday, killing at least 1,000 people and injuring more than 1,500 in one of the country’s deadliest earthquakes in decades, a state-run news agency reported. Have become. (AP photo)

The full extent of the devastation in the villages in the mountains was slow to come to light.

Roads, which are rough and difficult to travel in the best of conditions, can be badly damaged, and landslides from recent rains have made access even more difficult.

While modern buildings elsewhere withstood six earthquakes, Afghanistan’s mud and brick houses and landslide-prone mountains make such earthquakes even more dangerous.

Rescue teams arrived by helicopter, but relief efforts could be hampered by the exodus of several international aid agencies from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover last August.

Furthermore, most governments are wary of dealing directly with the Taliban.

In a sign of the tangled work-up between the Taliban and the rest of the world, the Taliban did not formally request that the United Nations mobilize international search and rescue teams or obtain equipment from neighboring countries to send a few dozen ambulances and several helicopters. by Afghan officials, said Ramiz Alkabarov, Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations in Afghanistan.

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Afghans search for survivors in the Village of Knowledge in Paktika Province, Wednesday, June 22, 2022. A powerful earthquake struck a rugged, mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday in the country’s deadliest quake that houses stone and mud-brick houses. in two decades, the state-run news agency reported. (AP photo/Ibrahim Nooroji)

Still, officials from several UN agencies said the Taliban were giving them full access to the region.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid wrote on Twitter that eight trucks of food and other necessities from Pakistan arrived at Paktika.

He also said on Thursday that two humanitarian aid planes from Iran and another plane from Qatar have arrived in the country.

More direct international aid may be more difficult to obtain; Many countries, including the US, provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan through the United Nations and other such organizations to avoid putting money in the hands of the Taliban.

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An Afghan villager collects his belongings from under the rubble of his house, which was destroyed in an earthquake Wednesday, June 22, 2022, in the Spera District in the southwestern part of Afghanistan’s Khost province. A powerful earthquake struck a rugged, mountainous area. In eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday, at least 1,000 people died and 1,500 were injured in one of the country’s deadliest earthquakes in decades, the state-run news agency reported. (AP photo)

In a news bulletin on Thursday, Afghanistan state television made a point to acknowledge that US President Joe Biden – his one-time foe – condoled the earthquake and had promised aid.

A White House statement said Mr Biden on Wednesday ordered “USAID and other federal government partners to assess US response options to help those most affected.”

According to the neighboring Pakistan Meteorological Department, the epicenter of the quake was in Paktika province, about 31 miles southwest of Khost city.

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An Afghan villager collects his belongings from under the rubble of his house, which was destroyed in an earthquake Wednesday, June 22, 2022, in the Spera District in the southwestern part of Afghanistan’s Khost province. A powerful earthquake struck a rugged, mountainous area. In eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday, at least 1,000 people died and 1,500 were injured in one of the country’s deadliest earthquakes in decades, the state-run news agency reported. (AP photo)

Experts have given its depth as only six miles. Shallow earthquakes cause more damage.

The number of deaths reported by the Bakhtar news agency was comparable to the 2002 earthquake in northern Afghanistan.

They are the deadliest since 1998, when the 6.1-magnitude quake was followed by tremors in the far northeast that killed at least 4,500 people.

Wednesday’s earthquake occurred in a landslide-prone area, which had many old, dilapidated buildings.

In the Spera district of neighboring Khost province, which also suffered severe damage, men stood on what was once a mud house.

The wooden beams were torn due to the earthquake. People sat outside under a makeshift tent made of wind-blown blankets.

Survivors quickly prepared the district’s dead, including children and an infant, for burial.

Officials fear that more people will die in the coming days.

“It is difficult to gather all the accurate information because it is a mountainous area,” said Sultan Mahmud, head of the Sprey district.

“The information we have is what we have collected from residents of these areas.”