At least 1,000 people have been killed and hundreds more injured after a powerful earthquake hit southeastern Afghanistan overnight, setting off a new humanitarian crisis in a country already facing a crumbling economy and hunger.
The eastern Paktika province was the worst hit, Sharafuddin Muslim, the deputy state minister for disaster management said. The state-run Bakhtar News agency said at least a 1,000 people had died and another 1,500 injured and the death toll could rise. Helicopters and rescue teams have been sent to the affected areas, he added.
Casualties and damage were also reported in nearby Khost and Nangahar provinces that border Pakistan, Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi said.
The quake was the worst calamity to hit the nation since a landslide in 2014 killed 2,000 people in the northeastern Badakhshan province. It struck about 44km from the southeastern city of Khost, near the border with Pakistan, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said.
Shaking was felt by about 119 million people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre said on Twitter.
The tremors were felt in Pakistan’s Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore and other parts of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces. A man was reported to have died after the roof of his house collapsed following the tremors in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
According to police, the man – a member of the local football team – was asleep inside his house in Lakki Marwat at the time the roof collapsed, the Express Tribune newspaper reported. The tremors spread fear and panic as people rushed out into open spaces.
Mounting a rescue operation will prove a major test for the hard-line Islamist Taliban authorities, who took over the country last August after two decades of war and have been cut off from much international assistance because of sanctions. The Taliban-led ministry of defence is leading rescue efforts.
Afghanistan’s economy is already in crisis after international aid, which made up some 40% of its gross domestic product, was lost since the Taliban took over the country after the withdrawal of US troops last August. The US also moved to block the central bank’s access to some $9 billion in overseas reserves.
More than 24 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance in the nation, up from about 18.4 million last year, the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (Sigar), said in a report last month. More than 70% of Afghan families do not have enough money to buy food and other essentials, the study added.
The country, already in its worst drought in three decades, has also been hit hard by the recent surge in food prices, fuelled by the war in Ukraine. The United Nations has warned more than half of the country’s 40 million people are facing acute hunger and a million children could die of starvation.
Acting PM Mullah Mohammad Hassan held an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday and set aside 100 million afghanis ($1.1 million) to help the victims, Muslim said, adding that the families of those killed would receive 100,000 afghanis ($1,116) each and the injured would get 50,000 afghanis each.
The Taliban’s spiritual leader Haibatullah Akhundzada has asked all concerned government officials and ordinary citizens to rush to the earthquake-hit areas to help with rescue and relief efforts, Karimi said. The affected areas are some of the poorest in the country with simple mud and brick homes and most people earn a living from s