ISLAMABAD (AP) — A senior Taliban delegation was visiting western Afghanistan’s Herat province on Monday in the aftermath of the powerful earthquake that killed at least 2,000 people over the weekend and flattened entire villages, a statement said.
Saturday’s magnitude 6.3 quake hit a densely populated area in Herat and was followed by strong aftershocks in what was one of the deadliest temblors to strike the country in two decades.
The Taliban-appointed deputy prime minister for economic affairs, Abdul Ghani Baradar, and his team will visit the quake-affected region on Monday to deliver “immediate relief assistance” and ensure “equitable and accurate distribution of aid,” according to a statement from the capital, Kabul.
The quake also trapped hundreds and people have been digging with their bare hands and shovels to pull victims — both dead and alive — from under the rubble. Authorities said Monday they were still waiting for an update on the latest casualties form Herat.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake’s epicenter was about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of the city of Herat, the provincial capital. It was followed by three very strong aftershocks, measuring magnitude 6.3, 5.9 and 5.5, as well as lesser shocks.
A global response to the Afghanistan quake has been slow, with much of the world wary of dealing directly with the Taliban government and focused on the deadly escalation between Israel and the Palestinians in the aftermath of the surprise attack by Gaza militants on Saturday that has left more than 1,100 dead in fighting so far and thousands wounded on both sides.
Aid agencies and nongovernmental groups have appealed for the international community to come forward but only a handful of countries have publicly offered support, including neighboring China and Pakistan.
Aid group CARE USA — a member of CARE International umbrella — said in a statement that the quake struck at a time when Afghanistan was already facing a severe humanitarian crisis that was significantly under-funded while needs are increasing rapidly.
The fast-approaching winter, combined with this new disaster, is likely to exacerbate the existing challenges and make it even more difficult for people to meet their basic needs, like adequate shelter, food, and medicine, it said.
“CARE is deeply saddened by the devastating earthquake that struck the western province of Herat,” said Reshma Azmi, the group’s deputy director for Afghanistan. “This comes less than seven months after another powerful earthquake hit the country, leaving thousands homeless and displaced.”
Azimi was referring to the magnitude 6.5 earthquake in March that struck much of Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan. Also, an earthquake hit eastern Afghanistan in June 2022, striking a rugged, mountainous region, wiped out stone and mud-brick homes and killed at least 1,000 people.
“The situation is worse than we imagined with people in devastated villages still desperately trying to rescue survivors from under the rubble with their bare hands,” said World Vision, a global charity.
Reinforcements from Kabul arrived on Sunday but the area of the quake has only one government-run hospital.
“Our colleagues and their families are processing this devastation in their hometowns, and yet we are responding with everything we have,” said Thamindri de Silva, the head of the Afghanistan office of the charity. “People need urgent medical care, water, food, shelter and help to stay safe. Please stand with us as we respond.”
Dozens of teams have scrambled to help with rescue efforts, including from the military and nonprofit groups. Irfanullah Sharafzai, a spokesman for the Afghan Red Crescent Society, said more than 20 teams were on the ground on Monday and have set up a temporary camp for the displaced.
In neighboring Pakistan, the government held a special session to review aid for Afghanistan, including relief teams, food items and medicines, as well as tents and blankets.