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Taliban ask for aid as over 1,000 die in huge earthquake in Afghanistan

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Residents observe the destruction caused by an earthquake in the province of Paktika, eastern Afghanistan. Photo: Bakhtar News Agency /AP

Residents observe the destruction caused by an earthquake in the province of Paktika, eastern Afghanistan. Photo: Bakhtar News Agency /AP

Residents observe the destruction caused by an earthquake in the province of Paktika, eastern Afghanistan. Photo: Bakhtar News Agency /AP

More than 1,000 people have been killed in a powerful earthquake in south-eastern Afghanistan, prompting the Taliban regime to call for urgent international aid.

Officials said a further 1,500 had been hurt and predicted the toll would rise as information trickled out of remote villages along the border with Pakistan.

Survivors said whole villages had been flattened as homes collapsed and landslides hit settlements in Khost and Paktika provinces.

Pictures showed villagers combing through the rubble of destroyed homes and digging rows of graves as they prepared to bury the bodies of neighbours wrapped in blankets.

The magnitude 5.9 earthquake is a further blow to a country already in the throes of famine and poverty crisis. The disaster will pose a challenge to the government that took power in August.

The Taliban called on United Nations agencies and aid charities working in the country for help.

Bilal Karimi, a deputy spokesman for the Taliban government, said: “We urge all aid agencies to send teams to the area immediately to prevent further catastrophe.”

Aid agencies and the UN may have fed starving Afghans over the winter, but Western governments have refused to pay aid money directly into the Taliban budget. The former insurgents’ conquest of the country, their refusal to let girls go to secondary school and their continuing links with al-Qaeda have made them pariahs.

The militant regime has appealed for the resumption of direct aid and the unfreezing of the country’s foreign reserves, but diplomats have said they are against any aid which might be seen to benefit the new regime directly.

“One thousand dead, 1,500 injured, and this number might go up. Many families have been lost,” said Mohammad Amin Hozaifa, information and culture director of Paktika.

The quake struck about 27 miles from the city of Khost, according to the US Geological Survey, and was the deadliest to strike the country in more than two decades. It occurred shortly after 1.30am local time (10pm Irish time).

Rescuers rushed to the area by helicopter, but the response is likely to be complicated since many international aid agencies left Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover.

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“My whole village was unlucky. Almost everyone in our area got under debris,” said Himat Khan by phone from Gayan district in Paktika.

“All night we were calling for help and support. No one came till 7am. Children were under debris. Voices calling for help could be heard. Some of them were in pain. Gradually, their voices were silenced as they died.”

He said he was on the road to the central provincial hospital with a dozen injured children in his pick-up truck.

“It was like the Day of Judgment. This is the very poorest area in Afghanistan. The area is now full of grief. In many areas, dead bodies are stuck under mud walls and ceiling debris.”

Shaking was felt by about 119 million people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, according to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre.

The disaster comes as Afghanistan has been enduring a severe economic crisis since the Taliban swept to power last August after defeating the UK and UK-backed government of Ashraf Ghani. The country was already one of the poorest in the world and since the Taliban victory, it has gone into economic meltdown after aid to its government stopped overnight and sanctions paralysed commerce.

Humanitarian agencies remained after foreign troops left and have been trying to stave off starvation for millions of Afghans. The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Afghanistan, said Spera in Khost, and Barmala, Ziruk, Naka and Gayan districts in Paktika were the worst hit.

UN and aid agencies “have been requested to support the de facto disaster management authority in assessing and responding to immediate needs,” the office said.

 

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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