Afghans bury dead, excavation of devastating earthquake survivors

Villagers rushed to bury the dead on Thursday, dug by hand through the rubble of their homes, searching for survivors of a powerful earthquake in eastern Afghanistan that state media said killed 1,000 people. Residents seemed largely on their own to deal with the fallout, as their new Taliban-led government and the international aid community struggled to bring in aid.

Under clear skies in Paktika province, the epicenter of Wednesday’s earthquake where hundreds of homes were destroyed, men dug several long trenches on a mountainside overlooking their village. They prayed over 100 bodies wrapped in blankets and then buried.

In villages in Gayan district, where Associated Press reporters roamed for hours Thursday, families who had spent the previous rainy night out in the open lifted logs from collapsed roofs and manually pulled stones in search of their missing loved ones. Taliban fighters were deployed in vehicles in the area, but a few of them were seen helping excavate the rubble.

There was no indication of heavy equipment – only one bulldozer was spotted in transit. Ambulances circulated, but there was little other help for the living.

Many international aid agencies withdrew from Afghanistan when the Taliban seized power nearly 10 months ago. The rest are rushing to get medical supplies, food and tents to the remote quake-hit region using poor mountain roads exacerbated by damage and rain.

“We are asking the Islamic Emirate and all the countries to come forward and help us,” said one of the survivors, who gave his name as Hakimullah. “We are nothing and have nothing, not even a tent to live in.”

The scenes highlighted how the 6.0-magnitude earthquake hit a country that was already on its knees from multiple humanitarian crises.

The quake claimed 1,000 lives, according to the state-run Bakhtar news agency, which also reported that an estimated 1,500 others were injured. In its first independent count, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said about 770 people were killed in Paktika and neighboring Khost province.

It is not clear how the totals were arrived at, given the difficulties of access and communication with the affected villages. Any of the horrific losses would make Afghanistan’s deadliest earthquake in two decades, and officials continued to warn that the number could continue to rise.

Since the Taliban took over in August amid the US and NATO withdrawal, the world has withdrew the funding and development aid that had been keeping the country afloat. The economy collapsed, leaving millions unable to buy food. Many medical facilities have closed, making treatment more difficult to find. Nearly half of the population of 38 million is facing crisis levels of food insecurity.

Afghanistan earthquake
Afghans search for survivors in Jian village, in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, Wednesday, June 22, 2022. A strong earthquake struck a rugged mountainous region in eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday, flattening stone and brick homes in the country’s deadliest earthquake. . The state news agency reported that in two decades.

He also left many aid and development agencies after the Taliban seized power. The United Nations and the remaining agencies said they were moving blankets, food, tents and medical teams to the area.

But it is overburdened, and UN agencies are facing a $3 billion funding shortfall for Afghanistan this year. This means that there will be difficult decisions about who will get help, said Peter Kessler, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency.

Adnan Junaid, Vice President of the International Rescue Committee for Asia, said that local medical centers, already struggling to deal with cases of malnutrition, are now overwhelmed with casualties from the earthquake.

“The toll this disaster will inflict on local communities…is catastrophic, and the impact of the earthquake on the already extended humanitarian response in Afghanistan is a serious cause for concern,” Junaid said.

The Defense Ministry, which is leading the Taliban’s emergency effort, said it sent 22 helicopters on Wednesday to pick up the wounded and take supplies, along with a number of others on Thursday.

However, the Taliban’s resources have been decimated by the economic crisis. The Taliban is made up of insurgents who fought for 20 years against the United States and NATO, and also struggled for a transition to power.

A United Nations official said, on Wednesday, that the government did not ask the international organization to mobilize international search and rescue teams or obtain equipment from neighboring countries, despite a rare appeal from the Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, for help from the world.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid wrote on Twitter, that trucks of food and other necessities have arrived from Pakistan, and planes filled with humanitarian aid have landed from Iran and Qatar. India said it had sent a technical team to its embassy in Kabul to coordinate the delivery of humanitarian aid, but did not give details of the team or relief items being sent.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif said in a telephone conversation with Taliban Prime Minister Mullah Hassan Akhund that Pakistan has also opened several nearby border crossings to allow those affected by the disaster to cross.

Getting more direct international assistance may be more difficult: Many countries, including the United States, are funneling humanitarian aid into Afghanistan through the United Nations and other organizations to avoid putting money in the hands of the Taliban, while being wary of dealing with the group, which has issued wave of attacks. Repressive decrees restricting the rights of women, girls and the press.

Germany, Norway and several other countries announced that they would send aid to counter the earthquake, but emphasized that they would only work through United Nations agencies, and not with the Taliban.

In a news release Thursday, Afghan state television made a point to acknowledge that US President Joe Biden – their former enemy – offered his condolences in the earthquake and promised to help. A White House statement said Biden on Wednesday instructed USAID and its partners to “evaluate” options to help victims.

Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations in Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, told the UN Security Council in a video briefing that he intends to visit the quake-affected areas on Friday and “meet the affected families and direct responders, including women’s civil society groups working to ensure that assistance reaches women.” and girls, and to support overall relief efforts.”

In Paktika state, the earthquake shook an extremely poor region, with residents living in a few fertile areas among rugged mountains. The roads are so difficult that some villages in the Jayan region took an entire day to reach from Kabul, even though it is only 175 kilometers (110 miles) away.

A 6-year-old boy in Guyenne cried saying that his parents, two sisters and a brother had all died. He had fled the ruins of his home and took refuge with the neighbours.

While modern buildings withstand earthquakes of magnitude 6 elsewhere, adobe homes and mountains prone to landslides make such earthquakes much more dangerous.

One man, named Rahim Jan, stood within the few adobe walls of his house with broken ceiling panels all around him.

“I was completely destroyed, and all my belongings were gone,” he said. “I lost 12 members of my family in this house.”


Associated Press writers John Gambrill in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Lee Keith in Cairo, and Rahim Fayez and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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