Deadly earthquake wreaks havoc for ‘isolated’ Afghanistan

(Clockwise from left) A man stands next to a collapsed house in Guyan District of Paktika Province; woman sitting with her injured child on a hospital bed in the shelter; While workers transport emergency supplies to earthquake-hit areas of Afghanistan.—AFP/Twitter-UNICEFG

• Earthquake tremors around Paktika, Khost provinces are said to have killed more than 1,000 people, with hundreds injured
• Many remote areas cut, hospitals full of injured
• Pakistan sent the first consignment of relief material, urging the world to ‘not connect help with politics’
• US and UN are considering aid options

Kabul: A massive 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit Afghanistan early on Wednesday, killing nearly a thousand people and injuring at least 600. Disaster management officials gave this information.

Said to be the worst earthquake in Afghanistan since 2002, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS), the seismic event occurred 44 km from Khost, near the border with Pakistan.

The European-Mediterranean Seismological Center (EMSC) said on Twitter that the tremors were felt by about 119 million people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.

read more, 30 Pakistani tribesmen killed in North Waziristan earthquake

The EMSC gave the quake a magnitude of 6.1, although the USGS said it was 5.9.

Home Ministry official Salahuddin Ayubi said the death toll was likely to rise “as some villages are in remote areas in the mountains and it will take some time to collect the details.”

However, pictures and videos coming out of the country showed houses buried under rubble and bodies lying on the ground wrapped in blankets.

Health and aid workers said an unknown number of people were trapped in rubble and outlying areas, while rescue operations were complicated by difficult conditions, including heavy rains, landslides and several villages in inhospitable mountainous terrain.

“Many people are still buried under the soil. Rescue teams have reached and with the help of local people, efforts are on to rescue the dead and injured.

Disaster experts and humanitarian workers said poor mountainous areas were particularly vulnerable to the quake, with landslides and poorly constructed homes causing widespread destruction.

eyewitness accounts

“We were all sleeping at home… and the room collapsed on us,” said Gul Faraz, while undergoing treatment with his wife and children at a hospital in Paktika. He said some family members have been killed.

“All the houses in our area were destroyed, not one, but the whole area has been destroyed.” Ayubi said most of the deaths were confirmed in the eastern province of Paktika, where 255 people were killed and more than 200 were injured. In Khost province, 25 people died and 90 were taken to hospital.

The challenge for Afghan officials has been compounded by recent floods in several areas, which have blocked sections of the highway.

Hospitals in rural Afghanistan have also come under pressure. From her hospital bed in Sharan, the capital of Paktika province, Bibi Hawa’s face sees tears as she tries to make sense of her situation.

At least a dozen members of his family were among those killed. “Where shall I go, where shall I go?” The 55-year-old asks repeatedly.

As a nurse tries to calm her down, talks to her softly and caresses her forehead, Bibi sighs: “My heart is weak.”

In the room where Bibi is being treated, a dozen other women lie in bed—many asleep, some buried under blankets, others clinging to vital fluids.

Shahmira was not hurt, but her one-year-old grandson lies on her lap, a large dress covering her temple.

On the next bed, her daughter-in-law is sleeping injured, while a son is being treated in another ward.

“We were sleeping when we heard a loud noise,” she says.

“I screamed… I thought my family was buried under rubble and I was the only one” still alive.

A dozen men are also recovering on the bed in the adjacent ward. A father holds his son in his arms while another child lies nearby under a blue blanket. His left hand is also in a cast, while a white stripe on his forehead has the word “Emergency” written in black marker.

“There was shouting everywhere. The kids and my family were under the mud.” Mohammad Yahya Wire, director of Sharan Hospital, says that they are doing their best to treat everyone.

When the wounded arrived, they were “crying, and we were crying too”, he says.

But local people are coming forward to help. Hundreds of men are waiting patiently in front of the hospital.

“They have come to donate blood – about 300 people have given it since this morning,” says one Taliban fighter.

aid from pakistan

Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, President Arif Alvi and top military officials expressed condolences over the loss of life and property in the earthquake and pledged to provide all possible humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.

In line with this commitment, a convoy of trucks carrying relief aid left for Khost on Wednesday night. The relief consignment includes tents, covers, blankets and medicines, which will be handed over to the Afghan authorities.

The convoy of trucks carrying relief aid will reach Khost via the Ghulam Khan border.

The Foreign Office said in a statement that the people of Pakistan stand in solidarity with their Afghan brothers in this difficult time. “We have no doubt that the fraternal Afghan people will overcome the effects of this natural disaster with their exceptional resilience,” it said.

The FO said that Pakistani authorities and institutions are working in coordination with their respective institutions to provide necessary assistance to Afghanistan.

international aid

An Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman said the Taliban would welcome international help, with US President Joe Biden directing Usaid and other federal government entities to assess how they might respond.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the United Nations is fully engaged, assessing needs and providing initial assistance.

But according to Ramiz Alkabarov, the UN deputy envoy to Afghanistan, the UN does not have search and rescue capabilities in Afghanistan and Turkey is in the “best position” to provide such assistance.

At the United Nations, Pakistan urged the international community not to link aid to the disaster-hit nation with political concerns.

“Humanitarian aid should not be a victim of geopolitics. UN humanitarian principles, including the principles of neutrality and impartiality, must be upheld,” said Ambassador Munir Akram at Tuesday night’s meeting on humanitarian aid in New York.

Published in Dawn, June 23, 2022