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World News

Afghan earthquake: Christian aid agencies 'working flat out' on urgent response

by Premier Journalist

With thousands feared dead in western Afghanistan, development agencies are co-ordinating with the UN to save lives, in villages flattened by a devastating earthquake. 

Hundreds of people are still believed to be trapped under debris. The Taliban says more than 2,400 people have died after the

magnitude 6.3 quake struck at 11am local time on Saturday, followed by a series of strong aftershocks.

The quakes were among the world's deadliest so far this year, after tremors in Turkey and Syria killed an estimated 50,000 in February.

They triggered panic in Herat, according to on resident, Naseema.

"People left their houses, we all are on the streets," she wrote in a text message to Reuters on Saturday, adding that the city was feeling aftershocks.

Food, drinking water, medicine, clothes and tents were urgently needed for rescue and relief, Suhail Shaheen, the head of the Taliban political office in Qatar, said in a message to the media.

More than 200 dead had been brought to various Afghan hospitals, said a Herat health department official who identified himself as Dr Danish, adding most of them were women and children.

Bodies had been "taken to several places - military bases, hospitals", Danish said.

The main hospital in Heart is understood to be treating more than 500 casualties.  Photos on social media showed how beds had been set up outside the hospital, to cope with the flood of injured people arriving.

Afghanistan's healthcare system, reliant almost entirely on foreign aid, has faced crippling cuts in the two years since the Taliban took over and much international assistance, which had formed the backbone of the economy, was halted.

Diplomats and aid officials say concerns over Taliban restrictions on women and competing global humanitarian crises are causing donors to pull back on financial support. The Islamist government has ordered most Afghan female aid staff not to work, although there have been some exemptions in health and education.

Apart from the regional hospital, the vast majority of the medical facilities in Heart are smaller basic health centres and the World Health Organisation says logistical challenges were hindering operations, particularly in remote areas.

 Communications are down, many roads are blocked, and housing in the worst-affected communities consists of collapsed mud structures.

Christian Aid's Head of Global, Ray Hasan, said: “This dreadful disaster comes on top of a country already reeling from acute hunger and a struggling economy. The number of those affected is increasing by the hour. 

“Donors should prioritise this emergency and allocate more resources for clean water, food and shelter. With our partners, Christian Aid is working flat out to see how we can help those most in need." 

The situation on the ground is described as chaotic, with exact numbers of the dead and injured still to be confirmed as the search and rescue operation continues. 

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