Earthquake in Afghanistan: rescuers work in difficult conditions

Earthquake in Afghanistan: Rescuers work in difficult conditions< /p> UPDATE DAY

Rescuers were desperately trying Thursday to help victims of the earthquake that killed at least a thousand people in southeastern Afghanistan, but their efforts were hampered by a lack of resources, the mountainous terrain and heavy rains. 

The earthquake, with a magnitude of 5.9, occurred in the early hours of Wednesday in this poor and difficult-to-reach rural region bordering Pakistan. Already grappling with an economic and humanitarian crisis, Afghanistan is being hit by a new tragedy, which poses a heavy challenge for the Taliban, in power since mid-August.

Already grappling with a crisis economic and humanitarian, Afghanistan has been struck by a new tragedy, which constitutes a heavy challenge for the Taliban, in power since mid-August 2021.

This is the most deadly earthquake that has known Afghanistan in more than two decades.

At least a thousand people have been killed and 1,500 injured in the most affected province of Paktika alone, according to the authorities, who fear that the toll will rise further, with many people remaining trapped under the rubble of their collapsed houses.

“Currently, the balance sheet is the same, but there is a chance that it will increase,” deputy government spokesman Bilal Karimi told AFP on Thursday evening. < /p>

“I was awake when the earthquake happened… When I came out of my house, everything was silent, because people were buried under their houses,” Zaitullah told AFP on Thursday. Ghurziwal, a resident of Bermal district, Paktika.

“There are no blankets, no tents, no shelters (…). We need food and water. Our entire water distribution system is destroyed. Everything is devastated, the houses are destroyed. People can only pull the dead (from the rubble) and bury them,” he added.

Lack of resources

“It is difficult to access the affected sites” especially since “the area was hit last night by floods caused by heavy rains”, underlined the head of the Information and Culture service of the Paktika province, Mohammad Amin Huzaifa.

These rains caused landslides that slowed relief efforts and damaged telephone and power lines.

The Taliban government appealed to the army, but he has few means. 

Its financial resources are very limited, after the freezing of billions of assets held abroad and the abrupt halt to Western international aid, which has carried the country at arm's length for 20 years and now only returns to dropper since the return to power of the Islamists.

Afghanistan has only a very limited number of helicopters and planes. 

The UN, which pointed out that at least 2,000 houses had been destroyed – each being inhabited on average by seven or eight people -, also highlighted the lack of clearing machines. 

Footage shows people clearing debris from houses with their bare hands in search of bodies.

The Taliban government has said it is doing the best it can and is calling for help from the international community, which has refused to recognize it so far, and humanitarian organizations.

But international aid is difficult to mobilize, NGOs and UN agencies being less present on the spot than in the past since the return to power of the Taliban.

Emergency aid

The Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, nevertheless assured that the UN was “fully mobilized” to help Afghanistan.

The NGO Save the Children on Thursday estimated that more than 118,000 children were affected by the disaster. “Many children most likely now have no access to clean water, food and a safe place to sleep,” she said.

The population needs shelter in priority, because of the rains and the unusual cold in this season, but also food and non-food aid and assistance in water, hygiene and sanitation services, according to the Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) of the UN.

The Taliban announced on Thursday that they had received two planes loaded with aid from Iran, and one from Qatar. Eight trucks loaded with food and first aid supplies from neighboring Pakistan also arrived in Paktika province.

The European Union also said on Wednesday it was ready to “provide emergency”. “Deeply saddened”, the United States has announced that it is examining its humanitarian “response options”.

Severely under-equipped, the Afghan health system is also under great pressure. “Our country is poor and lacks resources. It is a humanitarian crisis. It's like a tsunami,” Mohammad Yahya Wiar, director of the hospital in Sharan, capital of Paktika, told AFP.

Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes, especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies at the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates. These disasters can be particularly destructive due to the weak resistance of Afghan rural houses.

The deadliest earthquake in Afghanistan's recent history (5,000 dead) occurred in May 1998 in the provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan (northeast).