• At least 1,000 people were killed after an earthquake struck eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday.
  • It’s the latest setback for a country that is facing continued humanitarian and economic hardship.
  • A Kabul-based aid worker told Insider it’s “all hands on deck” as agencies respond to the disaster.

Humanitarian aid organizations are racing to a remote and mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan after a strong earthquake killed at least 1,000 people and injured thousands more on Wednesday. 

A senior Taliban official said the death toll of the 5.9-magnitude earthquake — which destroyed at least 1,800 homes — will likely rise as more information comes to light.

It’s just the latest addition to Afghanistan’s already widespread humanitarian woes. 

“The situation in the country is very difficult,” Ramiz Alakbarov, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan, told reporters from Kabul on Wednesday. “This does add to the burden — this does add a lot to a daily burden of survival.”

He continued: “Half of Afghanistan’s population is already in humanitarian crisis.”

Afghanistan has dealt with a slew of crises since the Taliban seized control of the country in August 2021 — the second time the militant group has done so — as the US and NATO forces withdrew. 

Western sanctions and domestic cash shortages have hamstrung Afghanistan’s economy, sending the country spiraling into an economic and humanitarian crisis. Nearly half the country’s population — 19 million people — face severe hunger, according to the World Food Programme

On top of this, sporadic terror attacks from ISIS-K — the Islamic State’s local affiliate — have challenged the Taliban’s already strained governance and undermined its authority. 

“The people of Afghanistan have undergone extraordinary hardship, and this natural disaster compounds an already dire humanitarian situation,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday. US sanctions have prevented the Taliban from accessing billions in funding. 

Shelley Thakral, a Kabul-based spokesperson for the World Food Programme, told Insider that food insecurity across the country is an issue, as over 90 percent of people do not have enough to eat.

Families have resorted to “very desperate coping mechanisms” to feed their families, Thakral said, like selling personal possessions, and in some cases, their children.

“People have been in debt because after the fall of the country, people lost jobs,” Thakral said. “The economic country has really had massive impact on people’s livelihoods.” 

Meanwhile, aid groups are turning their attention to the impacted areas from Wednesday’s earthquakes — Afghanistan’s remote and mountainous Paktika and Khost provinces.

But it’s not easy to get there. Thakral said a convoy delivering food from Kabul faced a 10-hour drive, including heavy rain and winds. Driving between remote villages can take hours, and the roads are not always paved. 

“The scale of it — we’re still coming to terms with,” Thakral said. “We have what we call a humanitarian response team, which is made up of multi-agencies, NGOs that will go down and make a very technical assessment.”

“It’s all hands on deck,” she added. 

UNICEF’s Afghanistan representative Mohamed Ayoya said in a statement shared with Insider that “the de facto authorities” have requested the support of UN agencies teams to respond to the disaster. Ayoya said the agency is distributing aid like kitchen equipment, hygiene supplies, and warm clothes. 

The UN’s humanitarian affairs office said in a report that the Taliban’s defense ministry has sent dozens of ambulances and multiple helicopters to the region, where it is conducting search and rescue missions.  

A spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross told Insider that the organization is also sending medical supplies to hospitals in the region.

“Beyond the urgency to respond to the humanitarian needs triggered by today’s catastrophe, States and development agencies are also encouraged to return to Afghanistan and continue their support for projects that are on hold,” the spokesperson said.