Aid has started to arrive in a remote part of Afghanistan, where an earthquake has killed at least 1,000 people, while Taliban officials said the rescue operation was almost complete.
The 6.1 magnitude quake struck in the early hours of Wednesday, about 100 miles southeast of Kabul, in arid mountains dotted with small settlements near the Pakistani border.
Poor communications and a lack of proper roads are hampering relief efforts in a country already facing a humanitarian crisis that has worsened since the Taliban took power last August.
“The rescue operation is over, no one is trapped under the rubble,” Mohammad Ismail Muawiyah, a spokesman for the top Taliban military commander in the hardest-hit Paktika province, told Reuters news agency on Thursday.
The United Nations said on Thursday that the Taliban’s Defense Ministry had indicated on Wednesday that 90 percent of search and rescue operations had been completed.
The earthquake killed about 1,000 people and injured 1,500, Muawiyah said. More than 3,000 homes were destroyed.
The death toll makes it Afghanistan’s deadliest earthquake in 20 years, according to US government data.
About 1,000 people were rescued on Thursday morning, Health Ministry spokesperson Sharafat Zaman told Reuters news agency.
“Aid has arrived in the area and continues, but more is needed,” he said.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Paktika province, journalist Ali Latifi said the situation on the ground was “very bad”.
“When you’re in these helicopters and you’re flying over these districts, you realize that they’re basically nestled in these mountains and these slopes that are all unpaved, rocky areas… whole houses made of mud. Really poor areas where people have the most basic living standards,” he said.
“Even the closest clinic to one of the districts we were in, they said it is 30 minutes away – and even this is a private clinic that would cost a lot of money for people to go. And again, getting there is extremely difficult.”
ask for help
The disaster response is a major test for the Taliban, which took power when US-led international forces withdrew after two decades of war.
The humanitarian situation has deteriorated alarmingly since the Taliban’s takeover, aid officials say, with the country cut off from much international assistance because of sanctions.
Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry, repeated calls on Thursday for more international aid to be provided.
We call on natural disaster management agencies and the international community to provide immediate and comprehensive aid to the Afghan people on the basis of humanitarianism so that victims can financially rebuild their livelihoods.
– Abdul Qahar Balkhi (@QaharBalkhi) June 23, 2022
“We urge natural disaster management agencies and the international community to provide immediate and comprehensive assistance to the Afghan people,” he posted on twitter.
Afghanistan’s economy has all but collapsed, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in an appeal to donors for aid in late March.
The drought has crippled food production and 9 million Afghans face hunger. Some families were forced to sell children and organs to survive, he said.
UN chief Guterres said the global agency is “fully mobilised” to help, sending health teams and supplies of medicine, food, trauma kits and emergency shelter to the earthquake zone.
The UN said its World Food Program (WFP) is sending food and logistical equipment to affected areas, with the aim of initially supporting 3,000 families.
“The Afghan people are already facing an unprecedented crisis after decades of conflict, severe drought and economic crisis,” said Gordon Craig, deputy director of WFP Afghanistan.
“The earthquake will only add to the already enormous humanitarian needs they support on a daily basis.”
Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates said on Thursday they planned to send aid. Supplies from neighboring Pakistan have already crossed the border.