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Aftershock in Afghanistan, Toll Rises  06/24 06:10

   

   GAYAN, Afghanistan (AP) -- An aftershock shook a hard-hit area of eastern 
Afghanistan on Friday, two days after a quake rattled the region, razing 
hundreds of mud-brick homes and killing 1,150 people, according to state media.

   Pakistan's Meteorological Department reported a 4.2 magnitude quake in 
southeastern Afghanistan that state-run Bakhtar News Agency reported took five 
more lives in hard-hit Gayan District and injured 11 people.

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

   The magnitude 6 quake on Wednesday that struck in the night as people were 
sleeping left thousands without shelter and brought into sharp focus the 
compounding needs of the country. Afghanistan remains cut off from the 
international monetary system, and aid groups lament having to pay local staff 
with bags of cash delivered by hand as nations refuse to deal directly with the 
Taliban.

   Aid organizations like the local Red Crescent and World Food Program have 
stepped in to assist the most vulnerable families with food and other emergency 
needs like tents and sleeping mats in Paktika province, the epicenter of the 
earthquake, and neighboring Khost province.

   Still, residents appeared to be largely on their own to deal with the 
aftermath as their new Taliban-led government and the international aid 
community struggle to bring in help. The shoddy mountain roads leading to the 
affected areas were made worse by damage and rain. Villagers have been burying 
their dead and digging through the rubble by hand in search of survivors.

   The Taliban director of the Bakhtar agency said Friday the death toll had 
risen to 1,150 people from previous reports of 1,000 killed. Abdul Wahid Rayan 
said at least 1,600 people were injured.

   The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has 
put the death toll at 770 people.

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

   State media reported that close to 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 kilometers (110 miles away.)

   In villages across Gayan district, toured by Associated Press journalists 
for hours Thursday, families who had spent the previous rainy night out in the 
open lifted pieces of timber of collapsed roofs and pulled away stones by hand, 
looking for missing loved ones. Taliban fighters circulated in vehicles in the 
area, but only a few were seen helping dig through the rubble.

   There was little sign of heavy equipment -- only one bulldozer was spotted 
being transported. Ambulances circulated, but little other help to the living 
was evident. One 6-year-old boy in Gayan wept as he said his parents, two 
sisters and a brother were all dead. He had fled the ruins of his own home and 
took refuge with the neighbors.

   Many international aid agencies withdrew from Afghanistan when the Taliban 
seized power last August. Those that remain are scrambling to get medical 
supplies, food and tents to the remote quake-struck area. U.N. agencies are 
also facing a $3 billion funding shortfall for Afghanistan this year.

   Germany, Norway and several other countries announced they were sending aid 
for the quake, but underscored that they would work only through U.N. agencies, 
not with the Taliban, which no government has officially recognized as of yet. 
Nations have called on the Taliban to first address human rights concerns, 
chief among them the rights and freedoms of Afghan women and girls.

   The International Rescue Committee has emergency health teams in the two 
provinces to deliver essential first aid and said it is providing cash support 
to families who have lost their homes and livelihoods in the earthquake. The 
organization, which has been operating in Afghanistan since 1988, is calling 
for an international roadmap to ultimately release Afghanistan's foreign 
exchange reserves.

   The Taliban's takeover of the country last year as the U.S. was preparing to 
withdraw its troops prompted the Biden administration to freeze around $9.5 
billion that the Afghan central bank has in U.S. banks, hampering the new 
rulers' efforts to pay civil servants and import goods.

   Trucks of food and other necessities arrived from Pakistan, and planes full 
of humanitarian aid landed from Iran and Qatar. India humanitarian relief and a 
technical team to the capital, Kabul, to coordinate the delivery of 
humanitarian assistance. India says its aid will be handed over to a U.N. 
agency on the ground and the Afghan Red Crescent Society.

   In Paktika province, the quake shook a region of deep poverty, where 
residents scrape out in a living in the few fertile areas among the rough 
mountains.

   There are projections, quoted by the U.N. and others, that poverty rates may 
climb as high as 97% of the population and unemployment to 40% this year.

 
 
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