KABUL/PESHAWAR: The Pakistan government said it was dispatching aid to Afghanistan as the Taliban called for international assistance after the deadliest earthquake in decades struck eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing at least 1,000 people.
The quake, with a magnitude of 6.1, hit rural, mountainous areas of the Paktika and Khost provinces near the Pakistan border on Tuesday night, flattening homes as people slept.
Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, head of the Information and Culture Department in Paktika, told reporters more than 1,000 people had been killed. Over 1,500 others were injured in the Gayan and Barmal districts of Paktika alone, he added, saying the figures were expected to rise.
The Afghan government in an emergency meeting approved 100 million Afghanis ($1.1 million) for relief efforts, but Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, called on the international community to help a country already facing a financial and humanitarian crisis.
The Taliban, who took over the country last August, have been cut off from much international assistance because of sanctions.
“We also ask the international community, aid organizations and humanitarian agencies to support the people of Afghanistan during this great disaster, and help the victims as much as possible,” he said.
Offers of assistance immediately came from Pakistan, where tremors were also felt but no damage or casualties were reported.
“Our authorities and institutions are working to extend required assistance to Afghanistan in coordination with their relevant institutions,” the Pakistan foreign office said. “The people of Pakistan stand in strong solidarity with their Afghan brethren in this difficult time.”
Pakistani Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said relief items were being sent to Afghanistan on the directives of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
“Relief items include food, tents, blankets and other items of necessary use,” Aurangzeb said.
Separately, the government in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan, said medical aid and other relief items were ready to be dispatched to Afghanistan.
“We’ve kept medical and food items ready to dispatch to Afghanistan the moment we get formal permission from Afghan authorities,” provincial government Spokesperson Barrister Dr. Muhammad Ali Saif told Arab News, saying the KP government held a marathon meeting today, Wednesday, to finalize arrangements and other modalities to send relief.
“Beds at state-of-the-art hospitals in South Waziristan and the adjacent North Waziristan tribal districts have been reserved to facilitate Afghans wounded in the earthquake,” Saif added. “The hospitals have general and orthopaedic staff to deal with any emergency but more staff can be provided if we feel there is any deficiency.”
The earthquake was the deadliest since 1998, when magnitude-6.5 tremors killed over 4,000 people in Takhar province in the country’s north.
Sakhi Rahman, a resident of Paktika, told Arab News health facilities in the province were overwhelmed by casualties.
“We may have a maximum of 300 to 400 hospital beds in the whole province,” he said. “We need ambulances and helicopters to transfer the wounded to Kabul and other provinces where they can receive proper and timely treatment.”
Another resident, Ahmad Gul, said dozens of people were killed in every village of the mountainous area.
“The disaster is very big. We have minimum facilities available in the province,” he said. “We must leave everything else and pay attention to saving more people.”
Rescuers were rushed to the area, but the response has been complicated by the departure of most international aid agencies after the Taliban took over and US-led forces withdrew following two decades of war.
Abdul Fatah Jawad, head of the Afghan aid group Ehsas Welfare and Social Services Organization, said international help was urgently needed.
“UN agencies, international organizations and charity foundations must give priority to providing emergency assistance to the provinces hit by last night’s earthquake,” he told Arab News. “The government alone isn’t going to be able to address this massive calamity.”