Pakistan plane carrying aid joins Afghan quake relief effort

A Pakistani military cargo plane carrying relief goods for Afghanistan’s earthquake-affected people landed at the Khost airport on Saturday, officials said, as tents, food and medical supplies rolled into the mountainous region.

Thousands were left homeless or injured by this week’s powerful earthquake in eastern Afghanistan, which state media said killed 1,150 people. An aftershock Friday took five more lives.

Among the dead from Wednesday’s magnitude 6 quake are 121 children and that figure is expected to climb, said the U.N. children’s agency representative in Afghanistan. He said close to 70 children were injured.

Survivor Dawlat Khan in the district of Gayan in Paktika province said five members of his family were injured and his house destroyed by the earthquake.

“We are facing many problems. We need all kind of support, and we request the international community and Afghans who can help to come forward and help us,” he said.

Mansoor Ahmad Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador in the Afghan capital of Kabul, said relief goods dispatched by Pakistan on Saturday were handed over to Taliban officials.

“It was our duty to help our Afghan brethren at this difficult time,” he said.

Neighboring Pakistan was often accused of harboring Afghanistan’s Taliban fighters before they swept to power last August as America ended its 20-year war. Since their takeover, Islamabad has led the way in pressing the world to engage with the religiously driven Afghan government.

Earlier, Pakistan’s government and a Pakistani charity had sent 13 trucks carrying food, tents, life saving medicine and other essential items to Afghanistan.

A 19-member team from Pakistan comprised of physicians and paramedics has been helping Afghanistan’s Taliban-run government in Khost, providing medical treatment for those injured in Wednesday’s earthquake.

The temblor struck a remote, deeply impoverished region of small towns and villages tucked among rough mountains near the Pakistani border, collapsing stone and mud-brick homes and in some cases killing entire families. Nearly 3,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged in Paktika and Khost provinces, state media reported.

Officials said Saturday that Pakistan has opened its border in the northwest to transport critically injured Afghans to hospitals in Pakistan. But it was unclear how many Afghans have arrived in Pakistan’s northwest from the quake-affected areas for medical treatment.

Overstretched aid agencies said the disaster underscored the need for the international community to rethink its financial cut-off of Afghanistan since Taliban insurgents seized the country 10 months ago. That policy, halting billions in development aid and freezing vital reserves, has helped push the economy into collapse and plunge Afghanistan deeper into humanitarian crises and near famine. The effort to help the victims has been slowed both by geography and by Afghanistan’s decimated condition.

Rutted roads through the mountains, already slow to drive on, were made worse by quake damage and rain. The International Red Cross has five hospitals in the region, but damage to the roads made it difficult for those in the worse-hit areas to reach them, said Lucien Christen, ICRC spokesman in Afghanistan.

Also on Saturday, an Afghan military chopper transported food and other necessities to people in Gayan. Dozens of men and children gathered in an open area under the hot sun to wait for food, water and tents from the Afghan Red Crescent.

The aid organization said it would distribute relief items to around 1,000 families in the district, including food, tents and clothes.

On Friday, Pakistan’s Meteorological Department reported a new, 4.2 magnitude quake. Afghanistan’s state-run Bakhtar News Agency said five people were killed and 11 injured in Gayan that is one of the areas worst hit in Wednesday’s quake.

Abdul Wahid Rayan, the Taliban director of Bakhtar, said the death toll from Wednesday had risen to 1,150 people, with at least 1,600 people 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 access difficulties. Either toll would make the quake Afghanistan’s deadliest in two decades.

At Urgan, the main city in Paktika province, U.N. World Health Organization medical supplies were unloaded at the main hospital. In quake-hit villages, UNICEF delivered blankets, basic supplies and tarps for the homeless to use as tents. Aid groups said they feared cholera could break out after damage to water and hygiene systems.

In the district of Spera in Khost province on Saturday, UNICEF distributed water purification tablets along with soap and other hygiene materials.


Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.

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