Afghanistan officials warn of cholera outbreak following earthquake

Lack of food and water following an earthquake leaves survivors with little resources. The Taliban administration calls for the rolling back of sanctions for humanitarian aid.

A Taliban helicopter takes off after bringing aid to the site of an earthquake in Gayan, Afghanistan, June 23, 2022. (photo credit:  REUTERS/ALI KHARA)
A Taliban helicopter takes off after bringing aid to the site of an earthquake in Gayan, Afghanistan, June 23, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ALI KHARA)

Thousands affected by a deadly earthquake in eastern Afghanistan are in need of clean water and food and are at risk of disease, an Afghan health ministry official said on Sunday, days after a U.N. agency warned of a cholera outbreak in the region.

At least 1,000 people were killed, 2,000 injured and 10,000 homes destroyed in Wednesday's earthquake, after which the U.N. humanitarian office (OCHA) warned that cholera outbreaks in the aftermath are of particular and serious concern. 

"The people are extremely needy for food and clean water," Afghanistan's health ministry spokesperson Sharafat Zaman told Reuters, adding officials had managed medicines for now but handling those who had lost their homes would be a challenge.

"We ask the international community, humanitarian organizations to help us for food and medicine, the survivor might catch diseases because they don’t have proper houses and shelters for living," he said.

Aid to survivors

The disaster is a major test for Afghanistan's hardline Taliban rulers, who have been shunned by many foreign governments due to concerns about human rights since they seized control of the country last year.

Helping thousands of Afghans is also a challenge for countries that had imposed sanctions on Afghan government bodies and banks, cutting off direct assistance, leading to a humanitarian crisis even before the earthquake.

The United Nations and several other countries have rushed aid to the affected areas, with more due to arrive over the coming days.

Afghanistan's Taliban administration called for a rolling back of sanctions and lifting a freeze on billions of dollars in central bank assets stashed in Western financial institutions. 

Afghan men search for survivors amidst the debris of a house that was destroyed by an earthquake in Gayan, Afghanistan, June 23, 2022. (credit:  REUTERS/ALI KHARA)Afghan men search for survivors amidst the debris of a house that was destroyed by an earthquake in Gayan, Afghanistan, June 23, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/ALI KHARA)

In Kabul, hospitals more used to treating victims of war have opened their wards to earthquake victims, but a majority of people remain in the areas destroyed by the earthquake.

"Our houses were destroyed, we have no tent... there are lots of children with us. We have nothing. Our food and clothes...everything is under rubble," Hazrat Ali, 18, told a Reuters team in Wor Kali, a village of the hardest-hit Barmal district.

"I have lost my brothers, my heart is broken. Now we are just two. I loved them a lot," he said.