Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders call for help after two decades of deadly earthquake

Humanitarian organizations rushed to the aid of eastern Afghanistan after a magnitude 6.1 earthquake shook the country early Wednesday, killing more than 1,000 people.

The disaster posed a new test for Taliban leaders and Afghan aid workers already battling the country’s multiple humanitarian crises.

Officials say the quake was the deadliest in Afghanistan in two decades and the death toll could rise.

According to the state news agency, an estimated 1,500 other people were injured.

The devastation is fueling more misery in a country where millions of people are facing growing hunger and poverty and a health system that has been collapsing since the Taliban came to power almost 10 months ago.

The takeover has halted vital international funding, and much of the world has since shunned the Taliban government.

The supreme leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Ahmadinejad – who almost never appears in public – called on the international community and humanitarian organizations “to help the Afghan people affected by this great tragedy and to spare no effort.”

Children from Afghanistan stand near a house destroyed by an earthquake
Haibatullah Akhundzadah asked for help from the international community.(AP)

Residents in the remote area near the border with Pakistan were searching for victims, dead or alive, digging with their bare hands in the rubble, according to footage shown by the Bakhtar news agency.

At least 2,000 homes were destroyed in the area, where, on average, each household has seven or eight people, said Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan.

Helicopters were sent to evacuate the injured

The full extent of the disaster between the villages hidden in the mountains was slow to come to light.

Its roads – which are damaged and difficult to move in the best conditions – may have been further damaged and landslides from the recent rains had already made access difficult.

Rescuers rushed by helicopter, but the relief effort could be hampered by the departure of several international aid workers from Afghanistan after the Taliban took over last August.

People transport the injured in a helicopter
Helicopters have helped evacuate the injured because the roads have been badly damaged.(Reuters: Bakhtar News Agency)

In addition, most governments are reluctant to confront the Taliban immediately.

Mr Alakbarov said the Taliban had not formally asked the UN to mobilize international search and rescue teams nor had they asked for equipment from neighboring countries.

However, officials from several UN agencies said the Taliban had given them full access to the area.

The epicenter was reported below the Pacific Ocean floor, however; no tsunami alert was issued.

Experts estimate that its depth is only 10 kilometers. Shallow earthquakes tend to cause more damage.

Map of Afghanistan showing the areas affected by the earthquake.
Most of the confirmed deaths were in Paktika province, while deaths were also reported in the eastern provinces of Nangarhar and Khost.

The European Seismological Service said the quake was felt more than 500 kilometers away from 119 million people across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

The Baktar news agency reports that the death toll so far is equal to that of an earthquake in 2002 in northern Afghanistan.

These were the deadliest since 1998, when an earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale shook the far northeastern part of the country, killing at least 4,500 people.

Wednesday’s quake affected a landslide-prone area, with many older, weaker buildings.

“The fear is that the death toll will rise further, also because many people could be trapped under collapsed buildings,” said Stefano Sozza, director of the Italian emergency medical team in Afghanistan.

This relief team sent seven ambulances and personnel to areas near the quake zone.

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Hundreds dead in Afghanistan after earthquake shakes country

Humanitarian organizations are sending aid to the quake-hit areas

More than 60 percent of Afghanistan’s 38 million people already rely on international aid to survive.

Humanitarian services still operating in the country, including UNICEF, rushed supplies to the quake-hit areas. And Pakistan said it would send food, tents, blankets and other necessities.

An Afghan receives help from the Red Cross
Humanitarian services have rushed supplies to quake-hit areas.(Reuters: Parwiz)

Obtaining more immediate international aid may be more difficult because many countries, including the United States, are sending humanitarian aid to Afghanistan through the UN and other similar organizations to avoid putting money in the hands of the Taliban.

The federal government has stated that it is considering the assistance it could and could offer to Afghanistan.

“[Foreign Affairs] Minister [Penny] “Wong will look at our response very carefully and, obviously, he will provide whatever help we can and ensure that it reaches those in need,” said Energy Secretary Chris Bowen.

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