Afghanistan earthquake: death toll soars to over 1,000

A landscape of desolation and grief was left by the earthquake that hit southeastern Afghanistan on Wednesday with the death toll now amounting to over 1,000.

The number of fatalities continues to grow as information trickles in from remote mountainous hamlets. Bodies wrapped in blankets dotted the scenery of houses reduced to rubble by an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.1.

With the epicentre at about 44 km from the southeastern city of Khost bordering Pakistan, the quake came down in history as Afghanistan’s deadliest since 2002. The disaster has also become a litmus test for the hard-line Islamist Taliban authorities’ crisis responsivity in conditions of limited foreign assistance due to the international community’s ambiguous if not cautious approach to the regime that had ousted a US-backed government in August.

To drum up support from more affluent states for the calamity-struck Afghanistan, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made a statement on Wednesday saying that the UN in Afghanistan was fully mobilised and UN teams were already on the ground assessing the needs and providing initial support. “We count on the international community to help support the hundreds of families hit by this latest disaster. Now is the time for solidarity.”

Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara told a regular news conference that the government was coordinating moves to “swiftly provide the necessary aid” to Afghanistan as well as assessing the situation to grasp local needs.

“At this time, we have not heard of any Japanese citizens who were affected [by the earthquake],” he added.

For its part, South Korea said it would provide USD 1 mln in humanitarian aid to earthquake-hit Afghanistan.

The rescue efforts including helicopters are led by the Taliban ministry of defence.

As the Islamic custom dictates, a body should be buried within 24 hours and not later than three days after a person died. People in Paktika province, the most affected by the tremor, already began digging graves to bury the dead on Wednesday.