GAYAN, June 24 (AP): An aftershock shook a hard-hit area of eastern Afghanistan on Friday, two days after a quake rattled the region, razing hundreds of mud-brick homes and killing 1,150 people, according to state media.
Pakistan’s Meteorological Department reported a 4.2 magnitude quake in southeastern Afghanistan that state-run Bakhtar News Agency reported took five more lives in hard-hit Gayan District and injured 11 people.
The country of 38 million people was already in the midst of a spiralling economic crisis that had plunged millions deep into poverty with over a million children at risk of severe malnutrition.
The magnitude 6 quake on Wednesday that struck in the night as people were sleeping left thousands without shelter and brought into sharp focus the compounding needs of the country. Afghanistan remains cut off from the international monetary system, and aid groups lament having to pay local staff with bags of cash delivered by hand as nations refuse to deal directly with the Taliban.
Aid organizations like the local Red Crescent and World Food Program have stepped in to assist the most vulnerable families with food and other emergency needs like tents and sleeping mats in Paktika province, the epicenter of the earthquake, and neighbouring Khost province.
Still, residents appeared to be largely on their own to deal with the aftermath as their new Taliban-led government and the international aid community struggle to bring in help. The shoddy mountain roads leading to the affected areas were made worse by damage and rain. Villagers have been burying their dead and digging through the rubble by hand in search of survivors.
The Taliban director of the Bakhtar agency said Friday the death toll had risen to 1,150 people from previous reports of 1,000 killed. Abdul Wahid Rayan said at least 1,600 people were injured.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has put the death toll at 770 people.
It’s not clear how death toll counts are being reached, given the difficulties of accessing and communicating with the impacted villages. Either grim toll would make the quake Afghanistan’s deadliest in two decades.
State media reported that close to 3,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged. In the district of Gayan, at least 1,000 homes were damaged by the earthquake. Another 800 homes in the Spera district of Khost province were also damaged.
While modern buildings withstand magnitude 6 earthquakes elsewhere, Afghanistan’s mud-brick homes and landslide-prone mountains make such quakes more dangerous.
Roads in the area are so poorly paved and difficult to navigate that some villages in Gayan District take a full day to reach from Kabul, though it is only 175 kilometers (110 miles away.)
Trucks of food and other necessities arrived from Pakistan, and planes full of humanitarian aid landed from Iran and Qatar. India humanitarian relief and a technical team to the capital, Kabul, to coordinate the delivery of humanitarian assistance. India says its aid will be handed over to a U.N. agency on the ground and the Afghan Red Crescent Society.
In Paktika province, the quake shook a region of deep poverty, where residents scrape out in a living in the few fertile areas among the rough mountains.
There are projections, quoted by the U.N. and others, that poverty rates may climb as high as 97% of the population and unemployment to 40% this year.