The earthquake that rocked Afghanistan last night has reportedly caused horrific damage. The Afghan Prime Minister's office reports that some 1,800 people were killed. Our staff have initial reports of 100 persons killed in two badly hit districts of northern Baghlan province - but casualty numbers are increasing all the time.
A U.N. assessment team, including two UNHCR staff, left Pul-i-Khumri this morning and is proceeding to Nahin and Burqa districts, a two hour drive southwards. As part of an initial response to this disaster, UNHCR has released 500 tents through our partner ACTED to shelter quake victims in Nahin District. Medical supplies are reportedly urgently required.
According to initial reports we received, the quake and repeated aftershocks razed five villages to the ground in Nahin District, and significant damage was also done in Burqa District in Baghlan Province. The quake reportedly struck the region after 7 p.m. local time. Strong aftershocks were felt this morning between 2:30 and 5:50 a.m. sending people scrambling from their beds even to the south in the capital, Kabul.
Many refugees under our care come from exactly this region - Nahin District was the scene of heavy fighting in mid-2000, forcing thousands of Afghans to flee. Many of them sought safety in Pakistan, and sheltered for some time in Jalozai, until they were relocated to UNHCR-run camps. We are advising Afghan refugees and displaced persons not to return to Nahin and other badly affected areas of Baghlan.
In Pakistan, the joint repatriation operation at Takhtabaig resumed today following last week's Muharam festivities. By mid-morning the number of returnees leaving Pakistan since the programme began on March 1 was over 85,000, and could surpass 90,000 today. Already this morning, there were 400 trucks loaded with refugees and their belongings waiting to be registered. Over the weekend holiday, UNHCR reinforced its staff for registration and verification, hiring and training 75 additional people. They will now be working in two shifts at Takhtabaig.
We will be briefing donor states about our operations in Afghanistan and the region today. In view of the fast pace of the joint repatriation programme, and now with the arrival of spring, we're urging donors to step up the rate of contributions as well because we need to get everything in place now.
We have so far received $119 million of the $271 million that we require to help return Afghans, provide rehabilitation assistance, and assist the some 3.7 million Afghan refugees who are under our care. We much appreciate a 75 million Japanese yen (about $565,000) contribution from Toyota for UNHCR's Afghan operation that just arrived.