At least 20 people were killed in flash floods that hit the northern Afghan province of Sari Pul, an official said on Wednesday.

The floods hit the district of Kohistanat in the remote south of Sari Pul in the early hours of Wednesday morning, said Zabihullah Amani, the spokesman for the provincial governor.

He said the floodwaters swept away and destroyed several houses. Around 22 people were wounded in the disaster, which happened as people slept.

The area is controlled by Taliban insurgents, he said, complicating access for rescue operations.

Regional leaders who met to discuss how to deal with the disaster and launch a search and rescue operation appealed for help from non-governmental relief agencies, Amani said.

Large parts of northern Afghanistan are often afflicted by flooding after heavy rains, as over-grazing and deforestation have made many areas vulnerable to natural disaster.

The environmental degradation, which is largely unchecked across war-torn Afghanistan, has seen deadly landslides caused by heavy rain and snows in recent years.

Disaster relief expertise, however, has improved, with government agencies often able to reach even the remotest regions to provide relief — often on foot or by donkey.

Taliban insurgents, who have waged war against the Kabul government for 15 years, have extended their presence across previously peaceful areas of the north following the departure of most international combat troops in 2014.

In remote districts, their presence can override that of the government, though they are not often able to hold territory for long and can attract resentment from local residents by denying them access to government services.