Afghanistan earthquake death toll rises to 2,400 as Taliban rule hinders rescue efforts

Activists say hardly any help has reached Afghanistan as ‘many’ remain trapped and deaths surge ‘hour by hour’

Stuti Mishra
Monday 09 October 2023 09:19 BST
Locals search for survivors in Afghanistan as death toll from quake rises to over 2,000

The number of deaths from the devastating earthquakes that struck Afghanistan have surged past 2,400 even as immediate international aid is yet to reach the country due to governments wary of dealing directly with the Taliban.

In a press conference on Sunday, Janan Sayeeq, spokesman for the Taliban’s ministry of disasters, said the death toll from two 6.3-magnitude earthquakes had increased to 2,445, making it one of the deadliest earthquakes in the history of Afghanistan. Mr Sayeeq also revised down the number of injured to “more than 2,000”. Earlier, he had claimed 9,240 people had been injured in the tremors that struck the Herat province.

While the world rushed to send aid after earthquakes rocked Syria, Turkey and Morocco this year and killed thousands, the Taliban official said “many are still trapped” under the rubble in Afghanistan days after the tremors struck one of the world’s poorest countries.

The country is yet to receive an immediate global response due to the Taliban regime’s actions as well as international attention being drawn towards the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Mr Sayeeq said the earthquakes “completely perished” several villages, apart from decimating 1,300 houses.

The US Geological Survey said the quake’s epicentre was about 40km northwest of Herat. It was followed by three very strong aftershocks of magnitudes 6.3, 5.9 and 5.5, as well as lesser shocks.

Almost 36 hours after the first earthquake hit Herat province, there have been no planes of aid flying in and no specialists on the ground. Activists said people have been left to dig through the debris themselves to rescue the injured.

The International Rescue Committee warned that the lack of help and rescue equipment could push the death toll higher in western Afghanistan because trapped survivors cannot be freed.

“There’s not much disaster management capacity and what there is can’t cover people on the ground,” said Salma Ben Aissa, the director for the international group’s Afghanistan mission said.

“The numbers (of dead) are increasing hour by hour.”

Ben Aissa’s colleague Jawed Niamati said Herat city is empty. People are sleeping in the open, on roadsides and in parks, as they fear more quakes. Temperatures drop to 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) at night, he said.

People injured in the quake on Saturday have been unable to get the treatment they need because of Afghanistan’s poor medical infrastructure so they are losing their lives. A lack of food, shelter and clean water are increasing health risks among communities.

The disaster comes just a year after an earthquake struck eastern Afghanistan in June 2022 and killed at least 1,000 people.

Aid agencies and nongovernmental groups have appealed for the international community to come forward, but only a handful of countries, including Pakistan and China, have publicly offered support.

Additional reporting by agencies

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