Rescuers were desperately trying Thursday to help victims of the earthquake that killed at least a thousand people in southeastern Afghanistan, but their efforts were hampered by a lack of resources, the mountainous terrain and heavy rains.
The earthquake, measuring 5.9, struck in the early hours of Wednesday in this impoverished and hard-to-reach rural area. access, border of 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.
It was the deadliest earthquake in Afghanistan in more than two decades.
At least a thousand people were killed and 1,500 injured in Paktika province alone, the most affected, according to authorities who fear the toll could rise further, with many people remaining trapped under the rubble of their collapsed homes.
“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 said. added, stressing that no new assessment was therefore yet available.
The heavy rains also caused landslides which slowed down 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 free a body.
The Taliban government has said it is doing the best it can and has called for help from the international community, which has so far refused to acknowledge it, and humanitarian organizations.
But international aid is difficult to mobilize, NGOs and UN agencies being less present on the ground 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 shipment of medicine 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. 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.
'Like a tsunami'
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, to image of Bibi Hawa, a 55-year-old woman from Gayan district, one of the hardest hit, who lost 15 family members.
“Seven in a room, five in another and three in yet another were killed,” she sighs on her bed, her face distorted by tears. “Now I am alone, I have no one.”
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 weak resistance of Afghan rural houses.
The deadliest earthquake in Afghanistan's recent history (5,000 deaths) occurred in May 1998 in the provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan (northeast).