More than 900 people were killed and hundreds more injured after a 5.9-magnitude earthquake rattled eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, according to an official with the country’s disaster management authority.
It is the deadliest earthquake to hit the Asian nation in decades and comes as the Taliban-ruled country is in the midst of a hunger crisis.
The tremors struck at 1:24 a.m. about 46 kilometers (28.5 miles) southwest of the city of Khost, which is near the country’s border with Pakistan, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). .
The quake struck at a depth of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), according to the USGS, which designated it a yellow alert level, indicating a relatively localized impact.
The death toll stands at more than 900 and at least 600 people have been injured, Deputy Minister of the State Ministry for Disaster Management Sharafuddin Muslem said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Most of the deaths occurred in Paktika province, in Giyan, Nika, Barmal and Zirok districts, according to the ministry.
In neighboring Khost province, 25 people were killed and several more injured, and five people were killed in Nangarhar province, the disaster management authority said.
Photos from Paktika province, just south of Khost province, show houses turned to rubble with only one or two walls standing amid the rubble and broken roof beams.
Najibullah Sadid, an Afghan water resource management expert, said the quake coincided with heavy monsoon rains in the region, making traditional houses, many made of mud and other natural materials, particularly vulnerable to damage.
“The timing of the earthquake (in the) dark of night… and the shallow depth of 10 kilometers from its epicenter led to a higher number of casualties,” it added.
A team of doctors and seven helicopters were dispatched to the area to transport the wounded to nearby hospitals, the Afghan Defense Ministry said in a tweet on Wednesday.
This comes as almost half of the country’s population, 20 million people, are experiencing acute hunger, according to a United Nations-backed report in May. It’s a situation aggravated by the Taliban’s seizure of power in August 2021, which prompted the US and its allies to freeze around $7 billion of the country’s foreign reserves and cut off international funding.
The situation has crippled an economy already heavily dependent on aid. Following the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, its economy went into freefall, with the World Bank forecasting in April that a “combination of declining incomes and rising prices has led to a serious deterioration in living standards.” of the homes”.
The Taliban held an emergency meeting on Wednesday to organize the transport of the wounded and material aid to the victims and their families, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said.
Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund called the meeting at the country’s Presidential Palace to instruct all relevant agencies to send emergency relief teams to the affected area, Mujahid said in a tweet.
“Measures were also taken to provide cash assistance and treatment,” Mujahid said, adding that the agencies were “instructed to use air and ground transportation for the delivery of food, clothing, medicine and other necessities and for the transportation of the wounded.” ”.
In a tweet on Wednesday, the World Health Organization said its teams were on the ground for emergency response, including providing medicine, trauma services and conducting needs assessments.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif expressed condolences and an offer of support in a tweet on Wednesday. “Deeply saddened to learn of the earthquake in Afghanistan, which resulted in the loss of innocent life,” he wrote. “People in Pakistan share the pain and sadness of their Afghan brothers. The relevant authorities are working to support Afghanistan in this time of need.”
India expressed “sympathy and condolences to the victims and their families,” according to a tweet from India’s Foreign Ministry spokesman on Wednesday.
Pope Francis said he was praying “for those who have lost their lives and for their families” during his weekly audience on Wednesday. “I hope that help can be sent there to alleviate all the suffering of the dear people of Afghanistan.”
Afghanistan has a long history of earthquakes, many of which occur in the mountainous Hindu Kush region that borders Pakistan.
In 2015, an earthquake that rocked parts of South Asia killed more than 300 people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
More than 1,000 people died in 2002 after an earthquake in the Nahrin region of northwestern Afghanistan. A powerful earthquake hit the same region in 1998, killing an estimated 7,000 people.