Afghanistan ends search for survivors of earthquake that killed more than 1,000

Men search for survivors amidst the debris of a house that was destroyed by an earthquake in Afghanistan, on June 23, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

KABUL (REUTERS, AFP) - Afghan authorities have ended the search for survivors of an earthquake that killed more than 1,000 people, a senior official said on Friday (June 24), adding that supplies of medicine and other critical aid were inadequate.

The death toll has been raised to 1,036 and is expected to rise, Mohamed Ayoya, UNICEF Representative to Afghanistan, said on Friday.

Many survivors were without food, shelter and water as they waited in devastated villages for relief workers to reach them, with rain compounding their misery.

About 2,000 people were injured and 10,000 houses were partially or completely destroyed in Wednesday's earthquake in a remote area near the border with Pakistan, Mr Mohammad Nassim Haqqani, a spokesperson for the disaster ministry, told Reuters.

"The search operation has finished," Mr Haqqani said.

He did not elaborate on why the search for survivors was being called off after some 48 hours. Survivors have been pulled from the rubble of other earthquakes after considerably more time.

The 6.1 magnitude earthquake struck about 160km south-east of Kabul, in a region of arid mountains dotted with small settlements that has often been at the centre of Afghanistan's decades of war.

Poor communications and a lack of proper roads have hampered relief efforts in a country already grappling with a humanitarian crisis that has deteriorated since the Taliban took over last August.

Mr Haqqani said Afghanistan did not have enough critical supplies to treat the wounded.

"The health ministry does not have enough drugs, we need medical aid and other necessities because it's a big disaster," he said.

With entire villages levelled in some of the worst affected districts, survivors said they were even struggling to find equipment to bury their dead.

"There are no blankets, tents, there's no shelter. Our entire water distribution system is destroyed. There is literally nothing to eat," 21-year-old Zaitullah Ghurziwal told an AFP team that reached his village in hard-hit Paktika province.

Mr Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, head of information for the province, said heavy rain and floods were hampering efforts to reach those affected.

Communications have also been hit as the quake toppled mobile phone towers and power lines.

The earthquake struck areas already suffering the effects of heavy rain, causing rockfalls and mudslides that wiped out hamlets perched precariously on mountain slopes.

Save the Children said more than 118,000 children were impacted by the disaster. "Many children are now most likely without clean drinking water, food and a safe place to sleep," the international charity said.

People wait to receive aid in an area affected by an earthquake in Gayan, Afghanistan, on June 23, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

The disaster poses a huge logistical challenge for the Taliban government, who took over as US-led international forces withdrew after 20 years of war.

The country has since been largely isolated, cut off from much direct international assistance because of sanctions.

"The aid distribution will be transparent," government spokesman Bilal Karimi told AFP, adding "many countries have supported us and stood with us".

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the global agency has "fully mobilised" to help.

According to his office, refugee agency UNHCR has dispatched tents, blankets and plastic sheeting; the World Food Programme has delivered food stocks for about 14,000; and the World Health Organisation has provided 10 tonnes of medical supplies sufficient for 5,400 surgeries.

Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates all said on Thursday they plan to send aid. Supplies from neighbour Pakistan have already crossed the border.

India, which has a strained relationship with the Taliban, said it had sent 27 tonnes of supplies on two flights to be handed over to international aid agencies.

Large parts of South Asia are seismically active because a tectonic plate known as the Indian plate is pushing north into the Eurasian plate.

In 2015, an earthquake struck the remote Afghan north-east, killing several hundred people in Afghanistan and nearby northern Pakistan.

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