Thursday, villagers raced to bury the dead and dug through the wreckage of their homes by hand in search of survivors following a significant earthquake in eastern Afghanistan that, according to official media, killed one thousand people. The Taliban and the international community that fled their rule struggled to assist the calamity victims.
Under a leaden sky in Paktika province, the epicenter of Wednesday's magnitude six earthquake, men excavated a line of graves in one village to immediately bury the deceased per Islamic custom. In one courtyard, bodies are wrapped in plastic to shield them from the rain, which impedes efforts to aid the living.
The state-run Bakhtar News Agency published the death toll, which indicated that 1,500 people were injured. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported in its first independent count that around 770 persons had been murdered in Paktika and adjoining Khost province.
Given the difficulty of accessing and communicating with the afflicted towns hidden in inaccessible mountain slopes, it is unclear how the totals were determined. Either outcome would make the earthquake the worst in Afghanistan in twenty years, and officials continued to warn that the death toll may grow.
"They have nothing to eat, they are wondering what they can eat, and it is raining," a reporter from Bakhtar stated in footage from the earthquake zone. Their homes have been devastated. Please assist them; do not abandon them."
Since the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan about ten months ago in the wake of the U.S. and NATO withdrawal, the country's health system has crumbled. The devastation caused by the disaster will only exacerbate the country's plight.
How the international humanitarian community, which has withdrawn considerable resources from the country, will be able to assist and to what extent the Taliban leadership will permit it are yet unknown. The Taliban's takeover resulted in the suspension of essential international financing, and most nations remain hesitant to deal with them directly.
U.N. agencies and other groups still working in Afghanistan reported sending supplies, such as medical kits, tents, and plastic tarps, to the region. Still, the needs were enormous as entire towns incurred severe damage.
"We request assistance from the Islamic Emirate and the entire nation," said a survivor who identified himself as Hakimullah. "We have absolutely nothing, not even a tent to live in."
SAR continued to be a top priority. Much of the debris in the severely damaged Gayan District was too huge to be moved with hands or shovels. They expressed anticipation that giant excavators may reach their rural dwellings, and there was now only one bulldozer in the region.
A U.N. official stated on Wednesday that the government had not requested that the world body mobilize international search-and-rescue teams or obtain equipment from neighboring countries, despite a rare request from the Taliban's supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzadah, for assistance from the international community.
This year, U.N. agencies are facing a $3 billion shortage in funding for Afghanistan. Peter Kessler, the United Nations refugee agency spokesman, stated that this might necessitate complex judgments regarding who receives relief.
In addition to political and financial problems, delivering relief to isolated areas presented logistical obstacles. The earthquake may have severely damaged the already rutted and difficult-to-travel roads, and landslides caused by recent rainfall have rendered some roads impassable. Although only 175 kilometers (110 miles) south of the capital, Kabul, it took a whole day to reach several Gayan District settlements.
Rescuers rushed in via helicopter, and Associated Press photographers spotted ambulances in the quake zone on Thursday, but it will be challenging to deploy heavy equipment.
During the earthquake, the walls and roofs of dozens of homes in Gayan collapsed, and people reported that entire families were buried beneath the wreckage. Journalists from the Associated Press counted perhaps fifty bodies in the neighborhood, where locals had laid out their deceased in front of their homes and courtyards.
While contemporary structures can withstand earthquakes of magnitude six elsewhere, Afghanistan's mud-brick dwellings and mountains prone to landslides make such tremors more perilous. Experts estimate the depth of Wednesday's quake to be about 10 kilometers. Shallow earthquakes also tend to do more significant damage, and Wednesday's quake occurred at a depth of just 10 kilometers (6 miles).
Despite the obstacles, U.N. officials reported that the Taliban had granted them free access to the region.
On Twitter, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid reported that eight trucks carrying food and other needs had arrived in Paktika from Pakistan. In addition, he said on Thursday that humanitarian aid from Iran and Qatar had arrived in the country.
Obtaining direct overseas assistance may be more challenging: To prevent putting money in the hands of the Taliban, several countries, including the United States, channel humanitarian aid to Afghanistan through the United Nations and other such organizations.
Thursday, Afghanistan state television made a point to highlight that former enemy U.S. President Joe Biden had sent condolences and promised aid following the earthquake. White House statement claimed Biden instructed the U.S. international aid agency and its allies to "evaluate" alternatives for aiding the victims on Wednesday.
The death toll stated by Bakhtar was identical to that of a 2002 earthquake in northern Afghanistan — the deadliest since 1998, when a 6.1 magnitude earthquake and associated tremors in the far northeast killed at least 4,500 individuals.
According to Pakistan's Meteorological Department, the epicenter of Wednesday's earthquake was in Paktika province, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) southwest of the city of Khost.
In the Speray area of Khost province, which also received severe damage, men stood atop the ruins of a mud dwelling, and the earthquake had torn apart its wooden beams. People sat outside behind a blanket-made improvised tent that fluttered in the breeze.
The district's deceased, including children and a baby, were promptly prepared for burial by survivors. Officials anticipate the discovery of more bodies in the coming days.
"The impact of this calamity on the local communities will be disastrous, and the earthquake's effect on the already strained humanitarian response in Afghanistan is cause for grave concern." "The vice president for Asia of the International Rescue Committee, Adnan Junaid, made this statement. The most impacted places are among of Afghanistan's poorest and most distant regions, which lack the infrastructure to endure such disasters."