Destruction everywhere, aid scarce after the earthquake in Afghanistan

When the ground heaved up from last week’s earthquake in Afghanistan, Nahim Gul’s stone and mud house collapsed on top of him.

He clawed through the rubble in the pre-dawn darkness, choking on the dust as he searched for his father and two sisters. He doesn’t know how many hours of digging went by before he saw their bodies under the ruins. They were dead.

Today, days after a magnitude 6 earthquake devastated a remote region of southeastern Afghanistan and killed at least 1,150 people according to authorities’ estimates, Gul sees destruction everywhere and help is on the way. rare. His niece and nephew were also killed in the quake, crushed by the walls of their home.

The United Nations put the death toll at 770 people, but warned it could rise further. Either toll would make Afghanistan’s deadliest earthquake in two decades.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to us or how we should start our lives over again,” Gul told The Associated Press on Sunday, his hands bruised and his shoulder injured. “We have no money to rebuild.

It’s a fear shared by thousands of people in the poor villages where the quake’s fury has hit hardest – in Paktika and Khost provinces, along the jagged mountains that straddle the country’s border with Pakistan.

Those who barely made it lost everything. Many have yet to be visited by aid groups and authorities, who struggle to reach the disaster area on rutted roads – some rendered impassable by landslides and damage.

Aware of their constraints, the cash-strapped Taliban appealed for foreign aid and called on Washington on Saturday to unfreeze billions of dollars in Afghanistan’s currency reserves. The United Nations and a range of international aid groups and countries have mobilized to send aid.

China pledged nearly $7.5 million in emergency humanitarian aid on Saturday, joining countries including Iran, Pakistan, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in sending a plane filled with tents, towels, beds and other much-needed supplies in the quake-affected area.

UN Deputy Special Representative Ramiz Alakbarov traveled to the hard-hit province of Paktika on Saturday to assess the damage and distribute food, medicine and tents. UN helicopters and trucks loaded with bread, flour, rice and blankets poured into the disaster areas.

“Yesterday’s visit reaffirmed to me both the extreme suffering of Afghans and their tremendous resolve in the face of great adversity,” Alakbarov said, calling for the repair of water pipes, roads and power lines. communications damaged in the area.

Without support, he added, Afghans “will continue to endure unnecessary and unimaginable hardship”.

But the relief effort remains uneven and limited due to funding and access constraints. The Taliban, who took power last August from a government backed for 20 years by a US-led military coalition, seem overwhelmed by the logistical complexities of issues such as clearing debris in what is heralds as a major test of their ability to govern.

Villagers dug up their dead relatives with their bare hands, buried them in mass graves and slept in the woods despite the rain. Nearly 800 families are living in the open, according to the UN’s humanitarian coordination organization OCHA.

Afghans receive aid at a camp after an earthquake in Gayan district in Paktika province on June 26, 2022.

Gul received a tent and blankets from a local charity in Gayan district, but he and his surviving relatives had to fend for themselves. Terrified as the earth still rumbles from aftershocks like Friday’s which claimed the lives of five others, he said his children in Gayan refused to go inside.

The earthquake was the latest calamity to rock Afghanistan, which has been reeling from a severe economic crisis since the Taliban took control of the country as the United States and its NATO allies withdrew their strengths. Foreign aid – a mainstay of the Afghan economy for decades – stopped virtually overnight.

Governments around the world have increased sanctions, halted bank transfers and crippled trade, refusing to recognize the Taliban government. The Biden administration has cut off Taliban access to $7 billion in foreign currency reserves held in the United States.

While touring the disaster site, Acting Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi urged the White House to release the funds “at a time when Afghanistan is grappling with earthquakes and floods” and to lift banking restrictions so that charities can more easily provide aid.

Western donors have suspended longer-term aid as they demand the Taliban allow a more inclusive regime and respect human rights. Former insurgents resisted the pressure, imposing restrictions on the freedoms of women and girls that recall their first stint in power in the late 1990s.

Today, around half of the country’s 39 million people face life-threatening levels of food insecurity due to poverty. Most civil servants, including doctors, nurses and teachers, have not been paid for months.

Afghans receive aid at a camp after an earthquake in Gayan district in Paktika province on June 26, 2022.

Afghans receive aid at a camp after an earthquake in Gayan district in Paktika province on June 26, 2022.

UN agencies and other remaining organizations have worked to keep Afghanistan on the brink of famine with a humanitarian program that has fed millions and kept the medical system afloat. But with international donors lagging behind, UN agencies face a $3 billion funding shortfall this year.

Reeling from war and impoverished long before the Taliban took power, remote areas affected by last Wednesday’s earthquake are particularly ill-equipped to deal with it.

Some local businessmen have taken action. The Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Investment announced on Sunday that it has raised more than $1.5 million for Pakitka and Khost provinces.

Yet for those whose homes have been destroyed, aid may not be enough.

“We have nothing left,” Gul said.

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