Rescuers were desperately trying on Thursday to help victims of the earthquake that killed at least a thousand people in southeastern Afghanistan, but their efforts were hampered by lack of resources, mountainous terrain and heavy rains. .

The earthquake, with a magnitude of 5.9, occurred in the early hours of Wednesday this poor and difficult to access rural region, bordering Pakistan. Already grappling with an economic and humanitarian crisis, Afghanistan is hit by a new tragedy, which constitutes a heavy challenge for the Taliban, in power since mid-August.

• Read also: At least 1,000 dead in powerful earthquake in Afghanistan

It is the deadliest earthquake in Afghanistan in more than two decades.

At least a thousand people have been killed and 1,500 injured in the most affected province of Paktika alone, according to the authorities, who fear that the toll will rise further, with many people remaining trapped under the rubble of their collapsed houses.

“It is very difficult to get information from the field because of the bad (telephone) network,” Paktika provincial information and culture chief Mohammad Amin Huzaifa told AFP on Thursday. .

In addition, “it is difficult to access the affected sites” especially since “the area was hit last night by floods caused by heavy rains”, he added, stressing that no new assessment was not yet available.

The heavy rains also caused landslides that slowed relief efforts and damaged telephone and power lines.

The Taliban government has called in the army, but it has few resources. Its financial resources are very limited, after the freezing of billions of assets held abroad and the abrupt halt to Western international aid, which has carried the country at arm’s length for 20 years and now only returns to dropper since the return to power of the Islamists.

Afghanistan has only a very limited number of helicopters and planes. The UN, which pointed out that at least 2,000 houses had been destroyed – each being inhabited on average by seven or eight people – also highlighted the lack of clearing equipment. A video taken on the spot by AFP shows a group of men clearing with their bare hands the debris of a completely collapsed house to release a body.

The Taliban government has said it is doing the best it can and called for help from the international community, which has so far refused to recognize it, and humanitarian organizations.

But international aid is difficult to mobilize, NGOs and UN agencies being less present on the spot than in the past since the return to power of the Taliban.

The Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, nevertheless assured that the UN was “fully mobilized” to help Afghanistan, with the ongoing deployment of first aid teams and the sending of medicines and food.

The population needs shelter in priority, because of the rains and the unusual cold in this season, but also food and non-food aid and assistance in water, hygiene and sanitation services, indicated the Bureau. for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (Ocha) of the United Nations.

The Taliban announced on Thursday that they had received two planes loaded with aid from Iran, and one from Qatar. Eight trucks full of food and first aid supplies from neighboring Pakistan have also arrived in Paktika province.

The European Union also said on Wednesday that it was ready to “provide emergency aid”. “Deeply saddened”, the United States has announced that it is examining its humanitarian “response options”.

Severely under-equipped, the Afghan health system is also under great pressure. “Our country is poor and lacks resources. It is a humanitarian crisis. It’s like a tsunami,” Mohammad Yahya Wiar, director of the hospital in Sharan, capital of Paktika, told AFP.

Several dozen survivors were taken to this hospital, including Bibi Hawa, a 55-year-old woman who lived in Gayan district, one of the most affected, and who lost 15 members of her family.

“Seven in one room, five in another and three in yet another were killed,” she sighs on her bed, her face contorted with tears. “Now I am alone, I no longer have anyone.”

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. These disasters can be particularly destructive due to the low resilience of rural Afghan homes.

The deadliest earthquake in the recent history of Afghanistan (5,000 dead) took place in May 1998 in the provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan (north-east).

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