Afghans have been desperately digging through rubble with their bare hands and shovels to try and pull victims from the wreckage of powerful earthquakes that killed at least 2,000 people.
The 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit a densely populated area near Herat, Afghanistan, flattening entire villages and trapping both the living and dead under rubble.
Hundreds of people are understood to still be trapped, more than 1,000 injured and around 1,300 homes destroyed.
A Taliban government spokesman on Sunday provided the toll that, if confirmed, would make it one of the deadliest earthquakes to strike the country in two decades.
An earthquake that 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 US geological survey said the quake’s epicentre was about 25 miles north-west of Herat.
It was followed by three very strong aftershocks – measuring magnitude 6.3, 5.9 and 5.5, as well as lesser shocks.
Due to much of the world being wary of dealing directly with the Taliban government and focused on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Afghanistan hasn’t received an immediate global response.
Almost 36 hours after the first earthquake hit Herat province, there have been no planes of aid flying in, no specialists.
Aid agencies and non-governmental groups have appealed for the international community to come forward but only a handful of countries have publicly offered support, neighbouring China and Pakistan among them.
The International Rescue Committee warned that the lack of rescue equipment could push up the death toll in western Afghanistan because trapped survivors cannot be freed.
“There’s not much disaster management capacity and what there is can’t cover people on the ground,” said Salma Ben Aissa, the committee’s country director for Afghanistan.
“The numbers (of dead) are increasing hour by hour.”
People injured in the quake on Saturday can’t get the treatment they need because of poor medical infrastructure so they are losing their lives.
A lack of food, shelter and clean water are increasing the health risks among communities.
Ben Aissa’s colleague, Jawed Niamati, said Herat city is empty. People are sleeping in the open air, on roadsides and in parks, because they fear more quakes.
Temperatures drop to ten degrees Celsius at night, he said.
Abdul Wahid Rayan, a spokesman at the Ministry of Information and Culture, said that hundreds of civilians were buried under the debris in Herat, and he called for urgent help.
At least a dozen teams have been scrambled to help with rescue efforts, including from the military and nonprofit organisations like the Red Crescent.
The United Nations migration agency deployed four ambulances with doctors and psychosocial support counselors to the regional hospital.
At least three mobile health teams were on their way to the Zenda Jan district, which is one of the worst-hit areas.
“The numbers affected by this tragedy are truly disturbing – and those numbers will rise as people are still trapped in the rubble of their homes in Herat,” said Arshad Malik, Save the Children’s group’s country director for Afghanistan.
“This is a crisis on top of a crisis. Even before this disaster, children were suffering from a devastating lack of food.”
He called for an “urgent injection” of money from the international community.
Afghan cricket star Rashid Khan is donating all his Cricket World Cup fees to help Herat’s earthquake survivors.
“Soon, we will be launching a fundraising campaign to call upon those who can support the people in need,” he told his 1.9 million followers on X, formerly Twitter.
Neighbouring Pakistan has said it was in contact with Afghan authorities to get an assessment of the urgent needs.
China’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Zhao Xing, said his government and the country’s charitable institutions were ready to provide all kinds of help.
“We are in contact with Afghan government aid agencies to provide aid to the needy,” he said on X.
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