Afghanistan: Earthquake rescue work continues

Status: 06/23/2022 08:35 a.m

After the severe earthquake in eastern Afghanistan, the rescue work is difficult. The affected region is difficult to access and there is a lack of equipment. The federal government also announced its help.

Rescue work continues after the devastating earthquake in the Afghan-Pakistani border region. At least 1,000 people were killed and 1,500 injured, according to the state news agency Bakhtar. Helpers dug up mass graves in the disaster areas. The massive tremor had startled numerous residents early yesterday morning.

Several aid organizations have meanwhile pledged their support to the country. “The number of casualties is expected to increase as search and rescue operations continue,” the UN Emergency Relief Office (OCHA) said. UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed his condolences to the families of the victims.

The severe earthquake occurred in the Afghan-Pakistani border region of Paktika. The center of the earthquake was 50 kilometers southwest of the city of Khost.

Danger of landslides on access roads

“The earthquake in Afghanistan has shaken a country where around 20 million people no longer know how to feed themselves,” said Thomas ten Boer, Welthungerhilfe’s country director in Kabul. “The local authorities have already signaled that outside help would be welcome. This shows that the disaster, the extent of which is not yet known, can hardly be dealt with on our own,” says ten Boer.

According to OCHA, up to 1,800 houses were destroyed in the affected provinces. Afghan media reported that one village had been completely destroyed. The construction in the poor and economically weak region is not earthquake-proof for cost reasons, many families live close together.

The rescue work is made more difficult by the access to the remote mountain region. Even in normal times, the roads there are bad, says Loretta Hieber-Girardet from the United Nations. It takes several hours from the capital Kabul. Now it’s also dangerous: “Strong earthquakes that shake the ground make landslides much more likely afterwards. Even under normal circumstances, 60 percent of the area of ​​Afghanistan is at risk of landslides. The danger is particularly great after heavy rains, and that’s exactly what’s happening was the last in this part of Afghanistan and more are foretold.”

According to the UN, there are no heavy machines

Videos from the scene show people digging in the rubble with their bare hands to find and rescue survivors. For Hieber-Girardet, the decisive point is whether heavy machinery can be brought to the affected regions in good time. “Whether or not it is possible to bring heavy machinery quickly enough to get people out from under the rubble and save lives, that’s the problem.”

Ramiz Alakhbarov, the deputy envoy of the United Nations in Afghanistan, had recently given little hope. Because there is currently a lack of the necessary machines in the country, he said at a press conference in Kabul. The local authorities are responsible for the clean-up work on site, and it is not known whether and what equipment is available. He hopes for the support of neighboring countries. Turkey has already sent aid teams. The governments of China and Pakistan have also pledged immediate help.

The militant Islamist Taliban, who have ruled Afghanistan again since August 2021, called an emergency cabinet meeting. Several helicopters were sent to the disaster area to help local people. A government spokesman called on aid organizations for support. Some aid organizations have already arrived on site.

Federal government announces help

The federal government announced that it would help the people affected without recognizing the ruling Taliban. The immediate humanitarian aid comes regardless of the political situation, said Niels Annen, Parliamentary State Secretary in the Ministry of Development Deutschlandfunk. According to Annen, German aid is to be provided primarily through international non-governmental organizations and the United Nations.

The Taliban are still an extremist organization. When dealing with the Afghan government, one must “remain very, very skeptical,” said Annen, who referred, among other things, to the discrimination against women when attending school. “We have the impression that the hardliners within the Taliban have prevailed in recent weeks and months,” said the SPD politician. Earthquake aid is not about the Taliban, but about Afghanistan. If the country is not stabilized, it will affect the entire region.

The German government had previously expressed “its deepest sympathy” to the Afghan people. “Our thoughts are with the relatives of the victims and the many injured,” government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit wrote on Twitter. He reiterated that the federal government still does not recognize the Taliban. It is about providing help quickly, and Germany will contribute to this within the framework of humanitarian aid.

5.9 magnitude earthquake

The US earthquake monitoring station (USGS) reported a magnitude of 5.9 for the quake and a slightly weaker aftershock. Accordingly, the center of the earthquake was around 50 kilometers southwest of the city of Khost near the border with Pakistan at a depth of around ten kilometers. Pakistani authorities registered the earthquake with a magnitude of 6.1.

Heavy earthquakes repeatedly occur in the Hindu Kush region and neighboring countries, where the Arabian, Indian and Eurasian plates meet. In 1998 an earthquake shook northern Afghanistan, killing several thousand people. In Pakistan in 2005, a massive earthquake killed more than 75,000 people and left over 3.5 million homeless. In neighboring Iran, an earthquake in 2003 killed more than 40,000 people and largely destroyed the historic city of Bam.

With information from Bettina Weiz, ARD Studio New Delhi

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