It’s the middle of the night when the earth begins to tremble. And the tremors, which occur at a depth of around ten kilometers in the Afghan-Pakistani border region, will still be felt in Kabul, Islamabad and even in India. “The devastating earthquake is another catastrophe that has befallen the crisis-stricken people in Afghanistan,” says Martin Frick, director of the World Food Program (WFP) in Germany, the Tagesspiegel.
According to official figures, at least 1,000 people died in the earthquake and at least 1,500 people were injured in eastern Afghanistan, the state news agency Bakhtar reported on Wednesday.
The UN emergency aid program estimates that the number of victims will continue to rise, as search and rescue operations in the region continue. The UN children’s charity Unicef sent 12 groups to the provinces of Paktika and Khost alone, which were particularly hard hit by the earthquake.
The rescue work is made more difficult by the limited access to the remote mountain region. The militant Islamist Taliban, who have ruled Afghanistan again since August 2021, called an emergency cabinet meeting. Several helicopters were sent to the disaster area to help local people. A government spokesman called on aid organizations for support. Helpers from the Red Crescent arrived on Wednesday.
An eyewitness reported the destruction to the German Press Agency. “There is great chaos everywhere. I counted a hundred bodies in an hour,” said journalist Rahim Chan Chushal. “The horror is great. Parents cannot find their children and children cannot find their parents. Everyone wonders who is dead and who is alive. The houses are made of mud and that’s why they were all destroyed by the strong earthquake,” he reports.
According to the Taliban leadership, dozens of houses in Paktika and Khost provinces were destroyed. Many animals also died. Afghan media reported that one village had been completely destroyed. The construction in the poor and economically weak region is not earthquake-proof for cost reasons, many families live together in a small space. In addition, the earthquake is likely to have surprised many people in their sleep.
The earthquake is now increasing the suffering of Afghans even further. According to the WFP, around 19.7 million people, almost half of the country’s population, are suffering from acute hunger, 6.6 million of them even at emergency level. Conditions are often so precarious that six in 10 families are forced to sell their belongings – in extreme cases even their own children – to feed their families, according to WFP.
“There is already famine in some areas,” says WFP director Frick. “One catastrophe in Ukraine pushed another in Afghanistan off the front pages, but the suffering of the people is still there and deserves our attention and our help.”
The US earthquake monitoring station (USGS) reported a magnitude of 5.9 for the quake and a slightly weaker aftershock. Accordingly, the center of the earthquake was around 50 kilometers southwest of the city of Khost near the border with Pakistan. Local authorities had registered the earthquake with a magnitude of 6.1. According to Pakistani sources, the tremors were felt in large parts of the neighboring country. Panic broke out in some places, but according to initial information, nothing was known about damage or injuries in Pakistan. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif expressed his dismay on the Internet and promised help for the people in the neighboring country.
Pope Francis expressed his condolences in Rome. “I express my closeness to the injured and those affected by the earthquake,” said the head of the Catholic Church on Wednesday at the end of the general audience in front of believers and visitors in St. Peter’s Square. The 85-year-old said he prayed especially for those who lost their lives and for their families.
Heavy earthquakes repeatedly occur in the Hindu Kush region and neighboring countries, where the Arabian, Indian and Eurasian plates meet.