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Aid Slow To Reach Survivors Days After Massive Quake Hits Afghanistan, Pakistan

Pakistani villagers dig out their belongings from the rubble of homes destroyed by an earthquake in Shangla in Swat Valley, Pakistan.
Naveed Ali
Pakistani villagers dig out their belongings from the rubble of homes destroyed by an earthquake in Shangla in Swat Valley, Pakistan.

Two days after a massive magnitude-7.5 earthquake rocked Afghanistan and Pakistan, aid workers were still struggling to reach survivors in remote and impoverished mountainous areas Wednesday, as the death toll across the region has climbed to more than 380, according to figures from the Associated Press.

Frigid temperatures and blocked roads from landslides are complicating efforts to reach survivors. The AP, citing an Afghan National Disaster Management Authority official, said assessment teams were being deployed to determine "casualties and damage in areas that can be reached only on foot or donkey."

The AP adds:

"Pakistan's disaster management authority said the nation's dead now were at 267, with 220 people killed in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and another 47 elsewhere in the country.

"Afghanistan has reported 115 dead and 556 wounded, while three people died on the Indian side of the disputed region of Kashmir.

"The head of the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority, Wais Ahmad Barmak told parliament that 7,630 homes had been destroyed and around 1,000 animals killed. In battered northwestern Pakistan, more than 10,000 homes were damaged, as well as 147 schools, officials said.


"According to Pakistan's disaster management authority, the quake damaged 10,586 houses in the country's northwest. Shangla is the worst affected town, with 49 people killed and 228 injured. Another 32 people died in Chitral, the Pakistani town closest to the epicenter of the quake."

The Guardian reports, that Doctors Without Borders, also known as Médecins sans Frontières, is shifting focus from treating the needs of the wounded to working to provide hygiene kits and shelter to the survivors.

"In many areas where houses have been destroyed, people have been enduring freezing conditions. Jamil Khan, a 24-year-old from Shangla, one of the worst affected districts in Pakistan, complained that many people had been forced to sit in the rain.

" 'No one came to help us,' he said. 'We are sitting in open area.'

"Pakistan's army has been at the forefront of rescue efforts, airlifting supplies of tents, blankets and ready meals to hard-hit areas. Military teams have also been working to clear landslides from roads."

"Many of the areas affected are hard to reach even in normal circumstances, said Karin Hulshof, the regional director of Unicef."

Adding another layer of difficulty is the Taliban. Reporting from Kabul, NPR's Phillip Reeves tells our Newscast unit that despite vows to help groups trying to provide assistance, the insurgent group has not stopped its ongoing clashes with government forces.

"The Taliban says it's told its fighters to help aid agencies get to the remote areas where the earthquake struck, yet the militants are continuing their fight with the Afghan government. Overnight they seized control of the district right by the northern border and close to the epicenter of the quake. "

Reuters reports that Taliban fighters seized control of a district capital of Darqand in Takhar province in northern Afghanistan in the early hours of Wednesday, local time.

The Taliban operations have raised concerns over how safely aid agencies can travel to areas hard hit by the quake. The news service adds:

"Abdul Khalil Asir, a spokesman for the Takhar police chief, said security forces had withdrawn from the district after six hours of fighting overnight.

"He gave no information on casualties but Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement that 12 police were killed and several wounded. Two Taliban militants were also killed and three wounded, he said."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.

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