Earthquake in Afghanistan: ‘What do we do when another disaster strikes?’ Afghans are facing crises on all fronts

Written by Javed Iqbal

The slow response, exacerbated by international sanctions and decades of mismanagement, pertains to people working in the humanitarian space, such as Obaidullah Baheer, an associate professor of Transitional Justice at the American University of Afghanistan. “This is a very patchwork patch solution to a problem that we need to start thinking (about) in the medium and long term … what do we do when (another disaster) strikes?” he told CNN by telephone.

The magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck early Wednesday near the town of Khost on the Pakistani border, and the death toll is expected to rise as many of the homes in the area were flimsy made of wood, mud and other materials vulnerable to damage. .

Humanitarian organizations are converging in the area, but it may be days before aid reaches the affected regions, which are among the most remote in the country.

UNICEF Afghanistan’s communications chief Sam Mort told CNN that critical aid it has sent out to help affected families is not expected to reach the villages until Saturday. Teams deployed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have not yet arrived, according to Anita Dullard, ICRC spokeswoman for Asia-Pacific.

“The challenges we face are first and foremost geographical, logistical challenges because the area is so remote and rural and mountainous. Already yesterday we had a lot of rain here and the combination of the rain and the earthquake has led to landslides in some areas, making the roads difficult to cross, “UNICEF’s Mort told CNN from Kabul.

The earthquake coincided with heavy monsoon rains and winds between 20 and 22 June, which has hampered the search effort and the helicopter journey.

As doctors and emergency personnel from across the country are trying to gain access to the site, aid is expected to be limited as a number of organizations withdrew from the aid-dependent country when the Taliban took power in August last year.

Men stand around the bodies of people killed in an earthquake in the village of Gayan in Paktika province, Afghanistan, on June 23.

Those that are left are stretched out thinly. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it had mobilized “all resources” from across the country, with on-site teams providing medicine and emergency assistance. But, as one WHO official put it, “resources are overloaded here, not just for this region.”

The international community’s reluctance to deal with the Taliban and the group’s “very messy bureaucracy, where it becomes difficult to get information from one source” has led to a communication gap in the rescue effort, Baheer – who is also the founder of the rescue group Save Afghans from Hunger – said.

“At the heart of it all is how politics has translated into this communication gap, not only between the countries and the Taliban, but also international aid organizations and the Taliban,” he added.

Baheer provides an example of how he has acted as an information channel with the World Food Program and other aid organizations, informing them that Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense offered to air transport aid from humanitarian organizations to hard-hit areas.

Meanwhile, some people spent the night sleeping in temporary outdoor shelters while rescuers searched for survivors with the flashlight. The UN says 2,000 homes are believed to have been destroyed. Pictures from the hard-hit Paktika province, where most of the deaths have been reported, show houses reduced to dust and rubble.

Officials say aid reaches the affected areas.

The government has so far distributed food, tents, clothing and other supplies to the quake-hit provinces, according to the Afghan Ministry of Defense’s official Twitter account. Medical and emergency teams deployed by the Afghan government are already present in the quake-hit areas and are trying to transport the injured to medical facilities and health centers over land and air, it added.

‘Carpet sanctions an entire country and an entire people’

Although the economic crisis in Afghanistan has threatened for years, a result of conflict and drought, it plunged to new depths after the Taliban took power, prompting the United States and its allies to freeze about $ 7 billion of the country’s foreign reserves and cut off international funding.

The United States no longer has a presence in Afghanistan following the rapid withdrawal of its troops and the collapse of the former US-backed Afghan government. Like almost all other nations, it has no official ties with the Taliban.

The movement has paralyzed the Afghan economy and sent many of its 20 million people into a severe famine crisis. Millions of Afghans are out of work, government employees have not been paid, and the price of food has risen.

A child is standing next to a house damaged by an earthquake in the Bernal district, Paktika province, on June 23.

Baheer says sanctions “hurt us so much” that Afghans are struggling to send money to families affected by the quake.

“The fact that we barely have a banking system, the fact that we have not had new currency printed or brought into the country in the last nine to 10 months, our assets are frozen … these sanctions are not working.” he said.

He added: “The only sanctions that make moral sense are targeted sanctions against specific individuals rather than blanket sanctions for an entire country and an entire people.”

While “sanctions have affected a large part of the country, there is an exception for humanitarian aid, so we get it in to support those most in need,” Mort from UNICEF told CNN.

The Taliban “do not prevent us from distributing anything like that, on the contrary, they enable us,” she added.

Experts and officials say the most urgent immediate needs include medical care and transportation for the wounded, shelter and supplies for the displaced, food and water and clothing.

An Afghan man searches for his belongings amid the ruins of a house damaged by an earthquake.

The UN has distributed medical supplies and sent mobile health teams to Afghanistan – but warned that it does not have search and rescue capabilities.

Baheer told CNN on Wednesday that the Taliban were only able to deploy six rescue helicopters, “because when the United States left it, it deactivated most of the planes, whether it belonged to Afghanistan’s forces or them.”

Pakistan has offered to help open border crossings in its northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkwa and allow wounded Afghans to enter the country visa-free for treatment, according to Mohammad Ali Saif, a spokesman for the regional government.

“400 wounded Afghans have moved into Pakistan this morning for treatment and a stream of people continues, these numbers are expected to increase by the end of the day,” Saif told CNN.

Pakistan has maintained a tight border for Afghans entering the country via the land border crossing since the Taliban seized power.

Robert Shackleford, Yong Xiong, Jessie Yeung, Sophia Saifi, Mohammed Shafi Kakar and Aliza Kassim contributed to this report.

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Javed Iqbal

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