THE number of dead, after the 7.5-magnitude earthquake in Afghanistan and Pakistan on Monday, will be more than the current figure of 382, officials have warned.
The epicentre was in the northern Afghan region of Badakhshan, where a lack of usable roads and damage from the tremors is likely to hamper relief efforts. If blankets and tents are not distributed to some of the survivors soon, they could die of the extreme cold, aid agencies have said.
The damage, while significant, is less than it could have been, because the earthquake originated 125 miles below the earth’s surface. But the tremors triggered landslides, some of which blocked roads and prevented vital aid supplies’ reaching the affected villages and towns.
Pakistan has said that it does not require international aid agencies to assist it, but Afghan officials have appealed for help. The chief executive of Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah, tweeted that he had asked relief agencies to work with them, and that “international partners” were already co-operating with Afghan authorities.
The UNICEF regional director for South Asia, Karin Hulshof, said in a statement: “We are extremely concerned for the safety and well-being of children, who are already the most at risk in any disaster, and are now in danger of succumbing to the elements as temperatures plummet.”
Christian Aid has sent £50,000 to its partner organisations in Afghanistan and Pakistan in response to the disaster. The charities will distribute food, blankets, emergency shelter, and hygiene kits. Once the bigger picture becomes clear, Christian Aid's work will shift to rebuilding livelihoods and farms destroyed by the quake, the agency's head of humanitarian programmes for Asia and the Middle East, Madara Hettiarachchi, said.
Médicins sans Frontières (MSF) said that its existing projects in north-west Pakistan had been swamped by an influx of seriously injured Pakistanis soon after the earthquake. One MSF dengue-fever ward has been turned into a makeshift in-patient ward for the wounded, and “mass-casualty” plans have been put in place across the region to help the Pakistani Ministry of Health.
The charity was now moving to its second-stage response to the disaster, its country representative for Pakistan, Sheelagh Woods, said. “Our mass-casualty responses were essential to save lives during the first hours, but now we need to rapidly finish some post-earthquake needs assessments.
“Initial assessments suggest that shelter and hygiene will be most likely the main needs, as it is already snowing in some of the more mountainous areas, and we have stocks of shelter and hygiene kits ready.”
The UK will help Pakistan in any way it can, the Minister for Pakistan, Tobias Ellwood, has said. Speaking on the TV channel Geo News, he said that the Pakistani government had not yet made any requests for assistance, but Britain would stand by its ally.
The United States and India were among other countries that announced that they were ready to send aid to the areas struck by the earthquake.
Access to the worst-hit parts of Afghanistan is complicated by the presence of the Taliban insurgency. On Tuesday, the Taliban said that it would not stop aid workers from coming in to assist people who were affected by the earthquake.
“The Islamic Emirate [Taliban] calls on . . . charitable organisations to not hold back in providing shelter, food, and medical supplies to the victims of this earthquake,” the group said on its website.
“It similarly orders its mujahideen [militants] in the affected areas to lend their complete help to the victims, and facilitate those giving charity to the needy.”
Pope Francis expressed his “solidarity” with the victims of the earthquake during his weekly audience in St Peter’s Square. “We remain close to the peoples of Pakistan and Afghanistan who have been struck by a strong earthquake,” he said on Wednesday.
Christians should pray for the dead and their families, he said. “May our concrete solidarity not lack for these our brothers.”