Aid was slowly arriving in devastated villages in southeastern Afghanistan on Friday, but thousands of survivors remained without shelter, food and water, three days after Afghanistan’s deadliest earthquake. country in more than two decades.
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The 5.9-magnitude earthquake that hit this impoverished and isolated region on the border with Pakistan on Wednesday left more than 1,000 people dead, 3,000 injured and thousands homeless.
The fragile houses with mud brick walls did not resist and the survivors found themselves completely destitute. They need shelter, to protect themselves from the rain and the cold, unusual in this season, but also food, water and first aid products.
“There are no blankets, no tents, no shelters (…) Our whole water distribution system is destroyed. There is absolutely nothing to eat,” Zaitullah Ghurziwal, a resident of the most affected province of Paktika, told AFP.
Several earthquakes have been felt since Wednesday. Five people were killed Friday morning by one of them in Gayan, according to Maqbool Luqmanzai, the director of health of this district, very affected.
Relief operations are complicated by the isolation of the region and the weather. The rains have caused landslides that are slowing the delivery of aid, and have damaged telephone and power lines.
But AFP reporters saw seven UN World Food Program (WFP) trucks, loaded with tents and biscuits, arrive Friday morning in the village of Wuchkai, Gayan, after more than a day’s drive. from Kabul.
Others, carrying basic foodstuffs, such as oil or rice, followed, according to a member of the organization. The NGO Médecins sans frontières (MSF) was also present, with two trucks loaded with tents and medicines.
This earthquake represents a major challenge for the Taliban, who took power in mid-August 2021 after 20 years of insurgency and alienated the international community with their ultra-rigorous conception of Islam.
International aid, which had carried the country at arm’s length for two decades, was cut off after their accession to power and is only coming back in dribs and drabs. And the country has since been mired in a deep financial and humanitarian crisis.
The government said it was doing its best to help the victims and appealed to the international community for help.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres assured that the UN was “fully mobilized” to help Afghanistan.
According to its services, the High Commissioner for Refugees (HCR) distributed tents, blankets and plastic sheeting; the WFP delivered food for around 14,000 people in Paktika and the World Health Organization (WHO) provided 10 tonnes of medical equipment, enough to carry out 5,400 surgeries.
The European Union estimated that 270,000 people living in the areas affected by the earthquake would need assistance and released initial emergency aid of one million euros.
Pakistan, Iran and Qatar have also sent aid to the disaster victims. And the United States, which withdrew from Afghanistan at the end of August after 20 years of war, said it was working with its humanitarian partners to send medical teams.
Some countries are reluctant to provide aid directly to the Taliban for fear that it will be diverted.
“Aid distribution will be transparent,” deputy government spokesman Bilal Karimi told AFP. “Several countries have supported us and have been by our side.”
Whole villages were destroyed. The authorities estimate that a total of nearly 10,000 houses, in which about twenty people are sometimes crammed, have been damaged.
In Wuchkai, in a cemetery overlooking the village, 11 summary graves have recently been dug. All contain the bodies of the same family killed in the earthquake, including children.
In the village of Zaitullah, the people, who wander around with weary and resigned faces, have lost everything. “We didn’t even have a shovel to dig (the graves), no equipment, so we used a tractor,” he said.
The urgency is great for the most fragile: the elderly and children.
The NGO Save the Children estimated on Thursday that more than 118,000 children were affected by the disaster. “A lot of children most likely now have no access to clean water, food and a safe place to sleep,” she said.
Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes, particularly in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies at the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.
The deadliest earthquake in its recent history (5,000 dead) took place in May 1998 in the provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan (north-east).