There are growing fears for the health and wellbeing of survivors of Wednesday’s earthquake in Afghanistan, as the death toll rose to 1,150 and the first shipments of international aid arrived in the impoverished country.
“There are no blankets, tents, there’s no shelter. Our entire water distribution system is destroyed. There is literally nothing to eat,” Zaitullah Ghurziwal, 21, told an AFP team that reached his village in Paktika province.
Thousands of people have been left without shelter after the night-time quake, which brought into sharp focus Afghanistan’s compounding needs.
“The health ministry does not have enough drugs, we need medical aid and other necessities because it’s a big disaster,” an official said. He added that an aftershock on Friday killed five people, but there was no immediate detail on the extent of new damage and injuries.
India and Iran sent tents, blankets and other relief supplies for a team to distribute in eastern villages, where thousands of timber and stone homes were reduced to rubble.
Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates said they were planning to send aid, while the first supplies from Pakistan have already crossed the border. Germany, Norway and several other countries also announced they would be sending aid but emphasised that they would work only through UN agencies, not with the Taliban, which no government has officially recognised.
State media reported that close to 3,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged after the magnitude 6 quake. It hit a mountainous region close to the border with Pakistan in the early hours of Wednesday morning, levelling whole villages in some of the worst-affected districts.
Afghanistan remains cut off from the international monetary system, and aid groups lament having to pay local staff with bags of cash delivered by hand as nations refuse to deal directly with the Taliban.
Aid organisations such as the local Red Crescent and World Food Programme have stepped in to assist the most vulnerable families with food and other emergency needs in Paktika province, above the epicentre of the earthquake, and neighbouring Khost province.
Still, residents appeared to be left largely on their own to deal with the aftermath as the Taliban-led government and the international aid community struggle to bring in help. The shoddy mountain roads leading to the affected areas were made worse by damage and rain. Villagers have been burying the dead and digging through the rubble by hand in search of survivors.
The Taliban director of the state-run Bakhtar news agency said on Friday that the death toll had risen to 1,150 people, from previous reports of 1,000. Abdul Wahid Rayan said at least 1,600 people were injured.
The Taliban’s takeover of the country last year as the US was preparing to withdraw its troops prompted the Biden administration to freeze about $9.5bn (£7.7bn) that the Afghan central bank has in US banks, hampering the new rulers’ efforts to pay civil servants and import goods.