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Afghan trembler

At least 1,000 people were killed and 1,500 injured after an earthquake (6.1 on the Richter scale) rocked remote parts of eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

A country already in shock is now contending with more disasters, deepening the misery of millions who face hunger and poverty and a crumbling health system after the Taliban retook power last August, post the US and Nato withdrawal. At least 1,000 people were killed and 1,500 injured after an earthquake (6.1 on the Richter scale) rocked remote parts of eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“People are digging grave after grave,” said Muhammad Amin Huzaifa, head of the Information and Culture Department in hard-hit Paktika. The interior ministry stated that the death toll was likely to rise “as some of the villages are in remote areas in the mountains and it will take some time to collect details”. Furthermore, foreign aid workers are said to have fled Afghanistan ever since the Taliban takeover. Footage from Paktika province, the worst affected, showed victims being carried into helicopters to be airlifted from the area. Images widely circulating online from the province showed destroyed homes, with residents going through the rubble. “The international rescue committee said they have deployed a local medical team to try and respond to the disaster.

The biggest issue is how to reach the sites because they are further away from the provincial capitals, and the road conditions could be difficult. So really the issue is how long it’s going to take them to get there.” Residents in the remote area near the Pakistani border searched for victims dead or alive by digging with their bare hands through the rubble, according to footage shown by the Bakhtar news agency. It was not immediately clear if heavy rescue equipment was being sent, or if it could even reach the area.

At least 2,000 homes were destroyed in the region, where on average every household has seven or eight people living in it, said Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN deputy special representative to Afghanistan. In response to the Taliban takeover, many governments have imposed sanctions on Afghanistan’s banking sector and cut billions of dollars of development aid. With only a handful of airworthy planes and helicopters left after the Taliban returned to power, any immediate response to the catastrophe is further limited.

The United Nations and European Union were quick to offer assistance. “Inter-agency assessment teams have already been deployed to a number of affected areas,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Afghanistan tweeted. Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund convened an emergency meeting at the Presidential Palace to coordinate the relief effort for victims.

The UN resident coordinator in Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, expressed condolences to the victims and said that the world body’s agencies were responding to the earthquake’s devastation. “Response is on its way,” he wrote on Twitter. Mountainous Afghanistan and the larger region of South Asia along the Hindu Kush mountains, where the Indian tectonic plate collides with the Eurasian plate to the north, have long been vulnerable to devastating earthquakes, as it was in Afghanistan on Wednesday.