A 5.9-magnitude earthquake occurred during the early hours of Wednesday morning near the city of Khost on the Pakistani border. At least 1,500 people have been reported injured – but officials warn the number is likely to rise because many families were sleeping in flimsy apartment buildings when the quake struck.
Many homes in the area are built of mud, wood and other materials susceptible to weather damage – and the earthquake coincided with heavy monsoon rains, increasing the risk of collapse.
Images from nearby Paktika province, a rural and mountainous area where most deaths have been reported, show homes reduced to rubble. According to the United Nations, around 2,000 homes are believed to have been destroyed. Some people spent the night sleeping in makeshift outdoor shelters, while rescuers search for survivors with a flashlight.
Paramedics and emergency personnel from all over the country are converging on the site, with the help 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 seized power last August.
The Taliban government deployed emergency resources, including several helicopters and dozens of ambulances, and provided compensation to the families of the victims.
It also called for foreign aid, calling for “the generous support of all countries, international organizations, individuals and institutions” on Wednesday.
Limited international aid
The earthquake has exacerbated the problems already afflicting Afghanistan.
Although the economic crisis has loomed for years as a result of conflict and drought, it has slipped to new depths after the Taliban took control, which prompted the United States and its allies to freeze about $7 billion in the country’s foreign reserves and cut international funding.
There are still a few relief agencies, and those that do are becoming weak. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization said it had mobilized “all resources” from across the country, with teams on the ground providing emergency medicines and support. But, in the words of one WHO official, “Resources are draining here, not just for this region.”
Experts and officials say the most urgent urgent needs include medical care, transportation for the wounded, shelter, supplies for the displaced, food, water and clothing.
The United Nations has distributed medical supplies and sent mobile health teams to Afghanistan – but it has warned that it has no search and rescue capabilities, and that regional neighbors have little ability to intervene.
The United States no longer has a presence in Afghanistan after the complete withdrawal of its forces and the collapse of the former Afghan government backed by the United States. Like almost all other countries, it does not have formal relations with the Taliban government.
Ramiz Alakbarov, deputy UN special representative for Afghanistan, said Turkey was the country best able to provide assistance. He said the Turkish embassy in Afghanistan was “waiting for the official request.”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said, on Wednesday, that the Turkish Red Crescent, which works 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 flights and trucks carrying items including medicine, tents and tarpaulins.
Alakbarov said an estimated $15 million in aid was needed to respond to the disaster – a number that will likely continue to rise as information flows about the situation on the ground.
“Our teams do not have specific equipment to move people from under the rubble,” Alakbarov said. “This should mostly depend on the efforts of the de facto authorities, who also have certain limitations in this regard… I don’t have detailed reports on how willing they are to operate and deploy such machines in these mountainous regions.”
Information including damage assessments is limited at the moment, with communications disruptions in remote areas and bad weather hampering transportation, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
“The country is reeling from the effects of decades of conflict, severe and protracted drought, the effects of other climate-related disasters, severe economic hardship, a devastated health system and system-wide gaps,” the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said on Wednesday. For more global support.
“Thus, although the disaster is local, the scale of the humanitarian needs will be enormous.”