The death toll from an earthquake in Afghanistan on Wednesday hit 1,000, disaster management officials said, with more than 600 injured and the toll expected to grow as information trickles in from remote mountain villages.
Houses were reduced to rubble and bodies swathed in blankets lay on the ground after the magnitude 6.1 earthquake, photographs on Afghan media showed.
An unknown number of people remained stuck under rubble and in outlying areas, health and aid workers said, and rescue operations were complicated by difficult conditions including heavy rains, landslides and many villages being nestled in inaccessible hillside areas.
"Many people are still buried under the soil. The rescue teams of the Islamic Emirate have arrived and with the help of local people are trying to take out the dead and injured," a health worker at a hospital in the hard-hit Paktika province said, asking for anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to media.
Mounting a rescue operation will prove a major test for the hard-line Islamist Taliban authorities, who took over the country last August after two decades of war and have been cut off from much international assistance because of sanctions. The Taliban-led ministry of defence is leading rescue efforts.
Loretta Hieber Girardet from the United Nations' disaster risk reduction office said efforts to provide relief and save people trapped under rubble would face huge challenges due to the terrain and weather.
"The roads are poor even at the best of times so having a humanitarian operation put in place is going to be immediately challenged by the lack of easy access to the area," she said, adding that rain combined with the tremor created a further risk of landslides for humanitarian workers.
The U.N. humanitarian office said it was deploying medical health teams and providing medical supplies.
Interior ministry official Salahuddin Ayubi said the death toll was likely to rise "as some of the villages are in remote areas in the mountains and it will take some time to collect details."
DEADLIEST QUAKE IN 20 YEARS
Wednesday's quake was the deadliest in Afghanistan since 2002. It struck about 44 km (27 miles) from the southeastern city of Khost, near the border with Pakistan, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said.
Shaking was felt by about 119 million people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) said on Twitter, but there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties in Pakistan.
The EMSC put the earthquake's magnitude at 6.1, though the USGC said it was 5.9. Disaster experts and humanitarian workers said the impoverished hilly areas struck by the quake were especially vulnerable, with landslides and poorly built houses adding to widespread destruction.
"We were all sleeping at home... and the room fell over us," said Gul Faraz as he received treatment for injuries with his wife and children at a hospital in Paktika. Some family members had been killed, he said.
"All the houses in our area were destroyed, not one, but the entire region has been destroyed."
Most of the confirmed deaths were in the eastern province of Paktika, where 255 people were killed and more than 200 injured, Ayubi said. In the province of Khost, 25 were dead and 90 had been taken to hospital.
Adding to the challenge for Afghan authorities is recent flooding in many regions, which has blocked stretches of highway.
Afghanistan is also grappling with a severe economic crisis. In response to the Taliban takeover last year, many countries imposed sanctions on Afghanistan's banking sector and cut billions of dollars in development aid.
Humanitarian aid has continued, however, from international agencies such as the United Nations.
A foreign ministry spokesman said the Taliban would welcome international help.
U.S. President Joe Biden directed the U.S. Agency for International Development and other federal government partners to assess U.S. response options, the White House said.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the United Nations was fully mobilized, assessing the needs and providing initial support.
"We count on the international community to help support the hundreds of families hit by this latest disaster. Now is the time for solidarity," he said in a statement.
Large parts of South Asia are seismically active because a tectonic plate known as the Indian plate is pushing north into the Eurasian plate. read more
In 2015, an earthquake struck the remote Afghan northeast, killing several hundred people in Afghanistan and nearby northern Pakistan.
Pakistan reports 541 COVID cases, first time in three months
An uptick in new COVID-19 cases in Pakistan consistently continues as the country reported over 500 new daily cases for the first time in three months.
Islamabad: Pakistan has reported one death and 541 new COVID-19 cases during the last 24 hours, the highest since March 11 when it recorded 571 positive cases.
According to the figures released by the National Institute of Health (NIH) on Wednesday, an uptick in new COVID-19 cases in Pakistan consistently continues as the country reported over 500 new daily cases for the first time in three months.
Following the situation, the health ministry said that wearing mask has been made mandatory on all domestic flights, railways and public transport.
The overall tally of the infected people climbed to 1,535,144 across Pakistan after adding the fresh cases.
March 23 was the first day without any recorded deaths in Pakistan since the pandemic took hold in 2020. Official death figures are typically lower at weekends and holidays because of a lag in reporting.
The health authorities have advised the people to restart following COVID related Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) such as wearing face masks, sanitizing hands, and maintaining social distance.
Journalist shot dead in latest attack on Mexico media workers
Presidential spokesperson Jesus Ramirez said on Twitter the journalist's daughter also was injured in the attack
A Mexican journalist was killed in the northern state of Tamaulipas on Wednesday, the newspaper he worked for said, the latest in a series of attacks in one of the world's most dangerous countries for media workers.
Antonio de la Cruz, a journalist for local newspaper Expreso, was gunned down in his home in the state capital Ciudad Victoria, the paper said.
His death comes after eight others in the media have been murdered in Mexico this year as a result of their journalism, according to human rights organization Article 19.
Presidential spokesperson Jesus Ramirez said on Twitter the journalist's daughter also was injured in the attack.
"We must not allow any more attacks on journalists and activists. These crimes will not go unpunished," Ramirez wrote.
The paper's parent company Expreso-La Razon demanded justice from authorities.
The Tamaulipas attorney general's office said in a statement it had opened an investigation into the incident and that police are collecting evidence and hunting for the attackers.
Violence against the press has skyrocketed during Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's administration, according to a report published by Article 19.
NA approves amendments in budget to impose Rs 50 levy on petroleum products
There is zero petroleum levy on petroleum products.
Islamabad: The National Assembly Wednesday approved amendments in the budget for the fiscal year 2022-23 to impose a Rs 50 levy on petroleum products.
Under the Finance Bill, the government has changed the cap on the petroleum development levy (PDL) from Rs30 per litre to Rs50 per litre.
However, the government hinted about increasing PDL to Rs50 per litre gradually.
At present, there is zero petroleum levy on petroleum products.
On the other hand, Federal Finance and Revenue Minister, Miftah Ismail here on Wednesday clarified that the government has no intention to pass on the full amount of petroleum levy (Rs.50 per liter) as incorporated in the Finance Bill 2022-23 to the consumers.
“The government has got the permission from you (the house) to impose up to Rs.50 per litter levy on petroleum products but there is no hope and intention to take the levy up to this figure”, he said while speaking in the National Assembly (NA).
The Minister also informed the members of the house that at present there is zero petroleum levy on the petroleum products.
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