Survivors of Afghanistan’s deadliest earthquake in more than two decades have been left without food, water or shelter as they wait in remote, devastated villages for help.
Wednesday’s 5.9-magnitude earthquake in rugged eastern counties – which killed at least 1,000 people and destroyed or damaged some 10,000 homes – destroyed cellphone towers and power lines as rocks and mudslides blocked mountain roads.
Aid began flowing into some affected areas on Thursday after initial difficulties reached the affected provinces.
“While the helicopters were useful in transporting the wounded and providing assistance, there is not enough to move around,” said Ali Latifi of Al Jazeera, a reporter from Gardez in eastern Paktia state.
Mawlawi Khalid, commander of the 203rd Taliban’s Mansouri Army, told Al Jazeera that all the helicopters were brought in from Kandahar and Kabul. “Of course we still need more, there is still a shortage,” he said.
In badly damaged Paktika state, resident Yaqoub Khan told Al Jazeera that all buildings had been flattened, including the local mosque. “There is nothing left here, except the wounded,” he said.
Authorities say the quake injured nearly 2,000 people.
Ali Khan, a resident of the Jayan neighborhood of Paktika, told Al Jazeera that the ground started shaking around 1:30 a.m. local time. “My family – 10 people, including children – were killed,” he said.
Khan said finding medical help for his surviving relatives was impossible. “There is a private clinic but it is 30 minutes away. There is no government hospital.
In some of the hardest-hit areas, survivors said they were struggling to find equipment to bury their dead and lacked even the simplest supplies.
No blankets, no tents, no shelter. The water distribution system was completely destroyed. “There is literally nothing to eat,” Zeitullah Gurziwal, 21, told AFP in his village in Paktika province.
The rescue operations are a major test for the Taliban, which took over as US-led international forces withdrew in August after two decades of war.
The Taliban’s Defense Ministry claimed early on Wednesday that 90 percent of search and rescue operations had been completed.
“The search process has ended,” Disaster Ministry spokesman Mohammad Naseem Haqqani told Reuters news agency on Friday. He did not explain why the search for survivors was called off after about 48 hours. The survivors were pulled out from the rubble of other earthquakes after a much longer time.
Two retired Nepalese officers involved in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake that killed 9,000 people expressed surprise to Reuters that rescue operations may be ending so soon, but noted that if most of the damaged homes were small, it might be possible.
The Taliban government has made repeated appeals for international aid, despite the country being cut off from much foreign aid due to sanctions.
“We call on natural disaster management agencies and the international community to provide immediate and comprehensive assistance to the Afghan people,” Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry said in a tweet.
According to the United Nations, UNHCR has sent tents, blankets and plastic sheeting. The World Food Program has provided food stocks for about 14,000 people in Paktika province, and the World Health Organization has provided 10 tons of medical supplies sufficient for 5,400 surgical operations.
However, UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told the Security Council on Thursday that the Taliban are resisting recent UN efforts to help obtain humanitarian funding in the country and are interfering with aid delivery.
“The formal banking system continues to block remittances due to over-reducing risks, affecting payment channels and causing supply chains to collapse,” Griffiths told the Security Council.
The United Nations is trying to launch a system – called the Humanitarian Exchange Facility (HEF) – to swap millions of dollars in aid into Afghani currency in a plan to stem aid and economic crises and bypass sanctioned Taliban leaders.
Griffiths said Taliban authorities were increasingly interfering with the delivery of humanitarian aid, despite a pledge by UN officials in September not to do so.
“National and local authorities are increasingly seeking to play a role in selecting beneficiaries and directing assistance to the people on their priority lists, citing the near-universal level of need,” he said.
The devastating earthquake has added to a number of emergencies facing Afghanistan, including the worst drought in 30 years and extreme poverty.
The country also has the largest number of people in the world who are at risk of starvation.
The United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Thursday that preparations are underway to avoid a cholera outbreak in the wake of the earthquake, with half a million cases of acute watery diarrhea already reported.
“The cholera outbreak in the wake of the earthquakes is of particular and serious concern,” OCHA said in a statement on Thursday. Preparations are underway to avoid an outbreak.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also said it was seeking to confirm that search and rescue operations were nearing completion.
Save the Children said more than 118,000 children were affected by the disaster.
“It is now likely that many children will be without clean drinking water, food and a safe place to sleep,” the international charity said.