Survivors of Afghanistan’s deadliest earthquake in more than two decades are left without food, water or shelter as they wait for help in devastated remote villages.
Wednesday’s 5.9-magnitude earthquake in the rugged eastern provinces — killing at least 1,000 people and destroying or damaging about 10,000 homes — has brought down cell towers and power lines and led to rock and mud flows that flood mountain roads. blocked.
Aid began trickling into some affected areas on Thursday after initial difficulties reaching the affected provinces.
Ali Latifi of Al Jazeera, reporting from Gardez in the eastern province of Paktia, said: “While helicopters have played an important role in transferring the injured and providing aid, there are not enough to get by.”
Mawlawi Khalid, commander of the Taliban’s 203rd Mansoori Army Corps, told Al Jazeera that all helicopters had been removed from Kandahar and Kabul. “Of course we need a lot more, there is still a shortage,” he said.
In the hard-hit Paktika province, resident Yaqoub Khan told Al Jazeera that all buildings had been razed to the ground, including the local mosque. “There’s nothing left here, just the wounded,” he said.
Authorities say the earthquake resulted in about 2,000 people being injured.
Ali Khan, a resident of Paktika’s Gayan district, told Al Jazeera that the ground started shaking at about 1:30 a.m. local time. “My family – 10 people, including children – were killed,” he said.
Khan said it was impossible to find medical help for his relatives. “There is a private clinic, but it is 30 minutes away. There is no government hospital,” he said.
In some of the worst-hit districts, survivors said they even struggled to find equipment to bury their dead and lacked the most basic amenities.
“There are no blankets, no tents, no shelter. Our entire water distribution system has been destroyed. There is literally nothing to eat,” 21-year-old Zaitullah Ghurziwal told AFP news agency in his village in Paktika province.
The rescue operations are a major test for the Taliban, which took over when US-led international forces withdrew in August after 20 years of war.
The Taliban’s defense ministry claimed on Wednesday that 90 percent of search and rescue operations had been completed.
On Friday, Mohammad Nassim Haqqani, a spokesman for the disaster ministry, told Reuters news agency that “the search operation has ended”. He did not elaborate on why the search for survivors was halted after about 48 hours. Survivors have been pulled from the rubble of other earthquakes after considerably more time.
Two retired Nepalese officers involved in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake that killed 9,000 people expressed surprise to Reuters that rescue operations could be nearing completion so quickly, but noted that if most of the damaged homes were small, this was possible.
The Taliban government has repeatedly called for international aid, despite being cut off from much foreign aid due to sanctions.
“We call on natural disaster management agencies and the international community to provide immediate and comprehensive assistance to the Afghan people,” said Abdul Qahar Balkhi, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a tweet.
According to the United Nations, the refugee agency UNHCR has sent tents, blankets and plastic sheeting; the World Food Program has supplied food supplies to about 14,000 people in Paktika province, and the World Health Organization has supplied 10 tons of medical supplies, enough for 5,400 surgeries.
However, UN deputy chief Martin Griffiths told the Security Council on Thursday that the Taliban have resisted recent UN efforts to get humanitarian funding into the country and have interfered with the relief effort.
“The formal banking system continues to block wire transfers due to excessive risk mitigation, impact on payment channels and disruptions in supply chains,” Griffiths told the Security Council.
The UN has tried to kick-start a system — described as a humanitarian exchange facility (HEF) — to exchange millions of aid dollars for Afghan currency in a plan to end aid and economic crises and punish Taliban leaders who are under sanctions to avoid.
Taliban authorities are also increasingly interfering with the delivery of humanitarian aid, despite a pledge to UN officials in September that they would not, Griffiths said.
“National and local authorities are increasingly trying to play a role in selecting beneficiaries and channeling aid to people on their own priority list, citing an almost universal level of need,” he said.
The devastating earthquake has led to a number of emergencies facing Afghanistan, including the worst drought in 30 years and massive poverty.
The country also has the highest number of people in the world at risk of famine.
The UN Humanitarian Office (OCHA) said on Thursday that preparations are underway to prevent a cholera outbreak in the wake of the earthquake, as half a million cases of acute, watery diarrhea had already been reported.
“Cholera outbreaks in the wake of earthquakes are of particular and serious concern,” OCHA said in a statement Thursday. “Preparations to prevent an outbreak are in full swing.”
OCHA also said it wanted to confirm that search and rescue operations were nearing completion.
Save the Children said more than 118,000 children were affected by the disaster.
“Many children are now most likely without clean drinking water, food and a safe place to sleep,” the international charitable organization said.