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More than 1,000 people are dead after earthquake in eastern Afghanistan

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Overnight, an earthquake shook a remote and impoverished province of southeast Afghanistan, burying families under their homes. Taliban officials say more than a thousand people were killed. And now the Taliban, as well as aid groups and residents, are trying to help survivors. NPR's Diaa Hadid reports from Islamabad.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER BLADES WHIRRING)

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: A helicopter departs from Kabul with Taliban officials, trying to reach the worst-hit areas. The journey is recorded by Khalid Zadran, the Kabul police spokesman who's on the trip. He shares his videos on Twitter. After they arrive, Zadran films men digging graves in neat rows in a dusty expanse under a laden, cloudy sky.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: In another video, men gather around him. One says...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Through interpreter) Any kind of help is urgent. We don't have clinic. We don't have shelter. Urgently, we need tent.

HADID: He goes on to say, everything we have is buried under the rubble, including their loved ones.

(CROSSTALK)

HADID: In another video shared by the Taliban state-run news agency, men crowd in the ruins of one home, trying to pull out a body.

(CROSSTALK)

HADID: The Taliban have promised financial help. They've also dispatched ambulances, medical teams and rescue teams. The U.N.'s deputy special representative to Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, said in a briefing to media that they had also requested assistance from Turkey, which is the closest country with professional search and rescue skills. U.N. agencies are already on the ground assessing needs, but there's other obstacles.

MOHAMMAD HANEEF: Wind and rain, actually, is a challenge.

HADID: Mohammad Haneef is a senior program coordinator with CARE, an international aid group. It's raining heavily. There was snowfall in nearby areas, and the roads are pretty bad. Only heavy-duty ambulances can really make it to some areas.

HANEEF: Sometimes we - our teams need to go by walking.

HADID: This earthquake is the first natural disaster that the Taliban have had to handle since seizing power in August last year. Ashley Jackson is the co-director of the Centre for the Study of Armed Groups and an expert on the Taliban. She says it's an opportunity for them to show Afghans that they can govern.

ASHLEY JACKSON: You have a strong ministry of defense, which is leading on response efforts. You have an Afghan Red Crescent Society, which is led by someone who comes from the East.

HADID: But it's hard to see how the Taliban can rebuild these devastated areas without more international support.

JACKSON: Where are the resources going to come from to help them to rebuild? And is the international community going to try and help in some way to do that?

HADID: The Afghan economy relied on aid, much of which dried up after the Taliban seized power. That also prompted Washington to freeze Afghanistan's central bank assets, triggering an economic crisis and a humanitarian disaster. Most Afghans can't buy enough food to eat, and around a million children face starvation. And Jackson says if hungry children haven't pushed the international community and the Taliban to find a way to work together, it's unlikely that an earthquake in a remote corner of Afghanistan will change anybody's minds.

Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.