Wednesday’s magnitude 6 earthquake that struck overnight as people slept left thousands homeless and highlighted the country’s growing needs. Afghanistan remains cut off from the international monetary system and aid groups lament having to pay local staff with hand-delivered bags of cash as nations refuse to deal directly with the Taliban.
Humanitarian organizations like the local Red Crescent and the World Food Program have stepped in to help the most vulnerable families with food and other emergency needs like tents and sleeping mats in Paktika province, l epicenter of the earthquake, and the neighboring province of Khost.
Still, residents appeared to be largely alone to deal with the aftermath as their new Taliban-led government and the international aid community struggled to deliver aid. The poor quality mountain roads leading to the affected areas were made worse by the damage and the rain. Villagers buried their dead and dug through the rubble by hand in search of survivors.
The Taliban director of the state-run Bakhtar news agency said on Friday the death toll had risen to 1,150 people from previous reports of 1,000 killed. Abdul Wahid Rayan said at least 1,600 people were injured.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs put the death toll at 770.
It is not clear how the death toll is reached, given the difficulties of access and communication with the affected villages. Either grim toll would make Afghanistan’s deadliest earthquake in two decades.
State media reported that nearly 3,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged. In Gayan district, at least 1,000 homes were damaged by the earthquake. Another 800 houses in Spera district, Khost province were also damaged.
While modern buildings elsewhere withstand magnitude 6 earthquakes, mud-brick houses and landslide-prone mountains in Afghanistan make such quakes more dangerous.
The roads in the region are so poorly paved and difficult to navigate that some villages in Gayan district take a whole day to drive to Kabul, despite being only 175 kilometers (110 miles) away.
In villages in Gayan district visited by Associated Press reporters for hours on Thursday, families who had spent the previous rainy night out in the open lifted pieces of wood from collapsed roofs and removed rocks from hand, in search of their missing loved ones. Taliban fighters were driving around in vehicles in the area, but only a few were seen helping to dig up the rubble.
There were few signs of heavy equipment – only one bulldozer was spotted being hauled. Ambulances were circulating, but little other help for the living was evident. A 6-year-old boy in Gayan cried as he said his parents, two sisters and brother were all dead. He had fled the ruins of his own house and taken refuge with the neighbours.
Many international aid agencies pulled out of Afghanistan when the Taliban took power last August. Those left are scrambling to deliver medical supplies, food and tents to the isolated quake-hit area. UN agencies also face a $3 billion funding shortfall for Afghanistan this year.
Germany, Norway and several other countries announced they were sending aid for the earthquake, but stressed that they would only work through UN agencies, not the Taliban, which no government has yet officially recognized. Nations have called on the Taliban to address human rights concerns first, foremost the rights and freedoms of Afghan women and girls.
The International Rescue Committee has emergency health teams in both provinces to provide essential first aid and said it was providing cash assistance to families who lost their homes and livelihoods in the quake. earthen. The organization, which has been operating in Afghanistan since 1988, is calling for an international roadmap to eventually release Afghanistan’s foreign exchange reserves.
The Taliban’s takeover of the country last year as the United States prepared to withdraw its troops prompted the Biden administration to freeze about $9.5 billion that Afghanistan’s central bank is holding in banks Americans, hampering the new rulers’ efforts to pay civil servants and import goods.
Truckloads of food and other basic necessities have arrived from Pakistan, and planes full of humanitarian aid have landed from Iran and Qatar. Indian humanitarian aid and a technical team in the capital, Kabul, to coordinate the delivery of humanitarian aid. India says its aid will be given to a UN agency on the ground and to the Afghan Red Crescent Society.
In the province of Paktika, the earthquake shook a region of great poverty, where the inhabitants live in the few fertile areas among the steep mountains.
There are projections, cited by the UN and others, that poverty rates could climb to 97% of the population and unemployment to 40% this year.
Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez in Islamabad, Pakistan and Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.