One of the deadliest earthquakes in decades rocked a remote, mountainous area of eastern Afghanistan early on Wednesday, killing 1,000 people and wounding 1,500 more, according to the state-run news agency. The terrible death toll may still increase, according to officials.
The Prime Minister of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhand, in an extraordinary cabinet meeting, dedicated 100 million afghanis to urgently addressing the families situation of Tuesday’s night earthquake victims in Paktika and Khost provinces.
The magnitude 6.1 quake that occurred close to the Pakistani border is still mostly unknown, although quakes of that size can do significant damage in areas where houses and other buildings are shoddily built and landslides are frequent.
The depth, which experts estimate to be just 10 kilometres, is another element that might cause serious harm.
The catastrophe presented a significant challenge for the Taliban-led administration, which came to power last year as the United States prepared to leave the region and put an end to its longest war, 20 years after overthrowing the same militants in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
Since many international relief organisations departed Afghanistan after the Taliban took control, the rescue effort is expected to be challenging despite the fact that rescuers went to the location by helicopter on Wednesday.
Afghan Earthquake the deadliest in decades
In Afghanistan, a landlocked country slightly smaller than Texas with rutted mountain roads that may now have incurred severe damage, getting to rural places is challenging even in the best of circumstances.
According to Pakistan’s Meteorological Department, the earthquake’s epicentre occurred in the Paktika province of Afghanistan, around 50 kilometres southwest of the city of Khost.
Buildings were also destroyed in the province of Khost, and vibrations could be felt in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, which is located about 375 kilometres distant.
Footage from Paktika showed men carrying people in blankets to waiting helicopters. Others were treated on the ground.
One resident could be seen receiving IV fluids while sitting in a plastic chair outside the rubble of his home and still more were sprawled on gurneys.
Some images showed residents picking through clay bricks and other rubble from destroyed stone houses, some of whose roofs or walls had caved in.
The death toll given by the Bakhtar News Agency was equal to that of a quake in 2002 in northern Afghanistan.
Those are the deadliest since 1998, when a 6.1 magnitude temblor and subsequent tremors in Afghanistan’s remote northeast killed at least 4,500 people.
In most places in the world, an earthquake of that magnitude wouldn’t inflict such extensive devastation, said Robert Sanders, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.
But a quake’s death toll more often comes down to geography, building quality and population density.
Because of the mountainous area, there are rockslides and landslides that we won’t know about until later reporting. Older buildings are likely to crumble and fail, he said.
Due to how condensed the area is in that part of the world, we’ve seen in the past similar earthquakes deal significant damage.
The Taliban are still trying to reconstitute government ministries abandoned by staff loyal to its previous Western-backed government, and it was not clear how officials arrived at the casualty tolls reported by Bakhtar.
In Kabul, Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund convened an emergency meeting at the presidential palace to coordinate the relief effort, and Bilal Karimi, a deputy spokesman for the Taliban government, wrote on Twitter to urge aid agencies to send teams to the area.
The response is on its way, the U.N. resident coordinator in Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, wrote on Twitter.
That may prove difficult given the situation Afghanistan finds itself in today.
After the Taliban swept across the country in 2021, the U.S. military and its allies fell back to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport and later withdrew completely.
Many international humanitarian organisations followed suit because of concerns about security and the Taliban’s poor human rights record.
In the time since, the Taliban has worked with Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates on restarting airport operations in Kabul and across the country but nearly all international carriers still avoid the country, and reluctance on the part of aid organizations to put any money in the Taliban’s coffers could make it difficult to fly in supplies and equipment.
The Afghan Red Crescent Society, however, sent some 4,000 blankets, 800 tents and 800 kitchen kits to the affected area, according to Bakhtar’s director-general, Abdul Wahid Rayan.
The Italian medical aid group Emergency, which still operates in Afghanistan, said it sent seven ambulances and staff to the areas closest to the quake zone.
The fear is that the victims will increase further, also because many people could be trapped under collapsed buildings, said Stefano Sozza, country director for Emergency in Afghanistan. This latest tragedy cannot but worsen further the condition of fragility and economic and social difficulties which Afghanistan has experienced for months.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif said his nation would provide help. At the Vatican, Pope Francis offered prayers for all those killed and injured and for the suffering of the dear Afghan population.
Some remote areas of Pakistan saw reports of damage to homes near the Afghan border, but it wasn’t immediately clear if that was due to rain or the earthquake, said Taimoor Khan, a disaster management spokesperson in the area.
The European seismological agency, EMSC, said the earthquake’s tremors were felt over 500 kilometers by 119 million people across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.