Afghanistan earthquake aftershock ends in more deaths

Villagers have been digging through the rubble by hand in search of survivors

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An aftershock shook eastern Afghanistan on Friday, two days after an earthquake killed more than 1,150 people and ruined thousands of homes.

Local media reported five more deaths in Gayan district as a result of the aftershock, which Pakistan’s Meteorological Department reported as a 4.2 magnitude quake.

The magnitude 6 quake on Wednesday, which struck at night as people were sleeping, left thousands without shelter and brought into sharp focus the compounding needs of the country.

The country of 38 million people was already in the midst of a worsening economic crisis that had plunged millions deep into poverty, with more than a million children at risk of severe malnutrition.

After the Taliban took over the country in August 2021, much of the international community cut them off financially, freezing assets abroad.

This has affected the group's ability to respond to the aftermath of the earthquake. Aid agencies have stepped in but progress is slow due to the remoteness of the area.

Aid organisations such as the local Red Crescent and World Food Programme have stepped in to assist the most vulnerable families with food and other emergency needs such as tents and sleeping mats in Paktika province, the epicentre of the earthquake, and neighbouring Khost province.

Villagers have been burying their dead and digging through the rubble by hand in search of survivors.

The Taliban director of the state-run Bakhtar News Agency said on Friday that the death toll stood at 1,150 people, up from previous reports of 1,000 killed.

Abdul Wahid Rayan said at least 1,600 people were injured.

The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs has put the death toll at 770 people.

It is not clear how death toll counts are being reached, given the difficulties of accessing and communicating with the affected villages. Either grim toll would make the quake Afghanistan’s deadliest in two decades.

State media reported that about 3,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged. In the district of Gayan, at least 1,000 homes were damaged by the earthquake. Another 800 homes in the Spera district of Khost province were also damaged.

While modern buildings withstand magnitude 6 earthquakes elsewhere, Afghanistan’s mud-brick homes and landslide-prone mountains make such quakes more dangerous.

Roads in the area are so poorly paved and difficult to navigate that some villages in Gayan District take a full day to reach from Kabul, though it is only 175 kilometres away.

Updated: June 24, 2022, 12:46 PM