Aid has begun arriving in a remote part of Afghanistan where an earthquake killed 1000 people but poor communications and roads are hampering relief efforts in a country already grappling with a humanitarian crisis.
The magnitude-6.1 earthquake struck early on Wednesday about 160 kilometres south-east of Kabul, in arid mountains dotted with small settlements near the border with Pakistan.
“We can’t reach the area, the networks are too weak, we are trying to get updates,” Mohammad Ismail Muawiyah, a spokesman for the top Taliban military commander in hardest-hit Paktika province, told Reuters, referring to telephone networks.
The earthquake killed some 1000 people and injured 1500, he said. More than 3000 houses were destroyed.
The toll makes its Afghanistan’s deadliest earthquake in two decades, according to US government data.
About 1000 people had been rescued from various affected areas by Thursday morning, Sharafat Zaman, a spokesperson for the health ministry told Reuters.
“Aid has arrived to the area and it is continuing, but more is needed,” he said.
The town of Gayan, close to the epicentre, sustained significant damage with most of its mud-walled buildings damaged or completely collapsed, a Reuters team said.
The town, with only the most basic roads, was bustling with Taliban soldiers and ambulances as a helicopter bringing in relief supplies landed nearby, whipping up huge swirls of dust.
About 300 people sat on the ground waiting for supplies.
The rescue operation will be a major test for the hard-line Islamist Taliban, who took over last August as US-led international forces withdrew after two decades of war.
The humanitarian situation had deteriorated alarmingly since the Taliban takeover, aid officials say, with the country cut off from much international assistance because of sanctions.
Afghanistan’s economy has all but collapsed, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in an appeal to aid donors in late March.
Drought has undermined food production and nine million Afghans face famine. Some families have been forced to selling children and organs to survive, he said.
The United Nations said its World Food Program (WFP) was sending food and logistics equipment to affected areas, with the aim of initially supporting 3000 households.
“The Afghan people are already facing an unprecedented crisis following decades of conflict, severe drought and an economic downturn,” said Gordon Craig, WFP deputy country director in Afghanistan.
“The earthquake will only add to the already massive humanitarian needs they endure daily.”
Japan and South Korea both said they also plan to send aid.
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.