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At least 60 Afghans killed by flooding in Taliban contested area, officials say

Men from a herding community walk in the morning light in Afghanistan's Nurestan province in 2009. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

KABUL — More than 60 people are dead after evening flash floods tore through Nurestan, an impoverished and rugged region of eastern Afghanistan where the heavy Taliban presence makes it difficult to launch rescue efforts, officials said Thursday.

The death toll could climb as rescuers and government officials gain more access, but downed cellular networks have hampered communication in the region, said Hafiz Abdul Qayyum, the governor of Nurestan.

About 300 homes in one village alone in Kamdesh were completely destroyed, he said. As many as 200 people were reported missing, said Saeedullah Nuristani, the head of Nurestan’s provincial council.

Taliban militants have contested control of the region, and government officials said they hope the militants will allow rescuers to use the few navigable pathways. Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said the group could cooperate in recovery efforts.

Flooding has become a routine summer tragedy in northern and eastern Afghanistan, where infrastructure is already poor and aid workers are stretched thin by decades of conflict. Afghanistan is warming faster than the global average, and natural disasters like flooding and drought deepen the humanitarian crisis here, according to the Asian Development Bank and World Bank.

Nearly 200 people were killed last August in flooding and powerful mudslides that swept away modestly built homes, deposited rocks and trees onto roads, and cut off rural villages from rescue.

The Taliban has added complexity to the problem. Nurestan is contested by militants, officials said, and the unforgiving terrain allows few points of access for rescuers to reach civilians.

“No government employee can go to the district,” said Samiah Zarbi, a spokesperson for the country’s disaster management agency.

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