The humanitarian disaster comes at a difficult time for the Taliban-ruled country, which is currently battling hunger and economic crises.
The shocks struck at 1:24 am local time on Wednesday (4:54 PM ET on Tuesday) about 46 kilometers (28.5 miles) southwest of the city of Khost, which is close to the country’s border with Pakistan, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) .
The earthquake registered at a depth of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), according to USGS, which pointed it to a yellow alert level — indicating a relatively localized impact.
Most of the deaths were in Paktika province, in Giyan, Nika, Barmal and Zirok districts, according to the state’s Ministry of Disaster Management.
The death toll stands at more than 1,000 and at least 1,500 people have been injured “in Gayan and Barmal districts of Paktika province alone,” Mohammad Amin Hozaifa, head of the information and culture department of Paktika province, said in a telephone conversation on Wednesday. to DailyExpertNews.
The official expects the number of casualties to rise as the search and effort missions continue.
In neighboring Khost province, 25 people were killed and several others were injured, and five people were killed in Nangarhar province, the disaster relief authority said.
Photos from Paktika Province, just south of Khost Province, show houses turned to rubble with only a few walls still standing among the rubble, and broken roof beams.
Najibullah Sadid, an Afghan water resource expert, said the earthquake coincided with heavy monsoon rains in the region, making traditional houses, many made of mud and other natural materials, particularly vulnerable to damage.
“The timing of the earthquake (in the) dark of night … and the shallow depth of 10 kilometers from the epicenter led to more casualties,” he added.
A team of medics and seven helicopters have been dispatched to the area to transport injured people to nearby hospitals, the Afghan Defense Ministry said in a tweet on Wednesday.
The situation has paralyzed an economy that is already heavily dependent on aid. Following the US’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, the economy has entered a free fall, with the World Bank forecasting in April that a “combination of falling incomes and rising prices has led to a serious deterioration in household living standards”.
The Taliban held an emergency meeting to organize the transport of the injured and material aid to the victims and their families, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said.
Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund called the meeting at the country’s presidential palace to instruct all relevant agencies to send emergency response teams to the affected area, Mujahid said in a tweet.
“Measures were also taken to provide cash assistance and treatment,” Mujahid said, adding that agencies were “instructed to use air and land transportation for the delivery of food, clothing, medicines and other necessities and for the transportation of the injured.”
Afghan Secretary of State for Disaster Management Mawlawi Sharafuddin Muslim said on Wednesday that “the Islamic Emirate will pay 100,000 AFN ($1,116.19) for the families of those killed in the earthquake and 50,000 ($558.10) will be paid to families of those injured.”
The government also stressed the need for foreign aid.
“Islamic Republic of Afghanistan calls for the generous support of all countries, international organizations, individuals and foundations to mobilize and deliver urgent humanitarian aid,” said a press statement from the country’s diplomatic missions.
In a tweet on Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said its teams were on the scene for emergency response, including providing medicines, trauma services and conducting needs assessments.
But a WHO official told DailyExpertNews’s Eleni Giokos that logistics were tense. “All resources have been mobilized not only from the nearby provinces but also from Kabul, including medical supplies, medics, nurses, health workers, ambulances and first responders trained to deal with such situations,” said Alaa AbouZeid, emergency team. chief and incident manager at the WHO office in Afghanistan.
“The situation is still evolving and we are pushing more resources if the situation requires it,” he said. “Resources are overstretched here, not just for this region, but we expect the situation to evolve in the coming hours.”
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), heavy rain and wind “impede efforts with helicopters reportedly unable to land this afternoon”.
“Immediate needs identified include emergency trauma care, emergency shelter and non-food items, food assistance, and WASH [water, sanitation and hygiene] support,” UNOCHA said in a statement released Wednesday.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif tweeted his condolences and an offer of support on Wednesday. “Deeply saddened to hear about the earthquake in Afghanistan, which resulted in the loss of innocent lives,” he wrote. “People in Pakistan share the grief and sorrow of their Afghan brothers. Relevant authorities are working to support Afghanistan in this time of need.”
India expressed “compassion and condolences to the victims and their families,” a tweet from the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said on Wednesday.
Pope Francis said during his weekly audience on Wednesday that he was praying “for those who have lost their lives and for their families”. “I hope help can be sent to help all the suffering of the dear people of Afghanistan.”
Afghanistan has a long history of earthquakes, many of which occur in the mountainous Hindu Kush region bordering Pakistan.
Hada Messia, Adam Pourahmadi, Aliza Kassi and Martin Goillandeau of DailyExpertNews contributed to this report.