Afghanistan earthquake: ‘What do we do when another disaster strikes?’ Afghans face crises on all fronts

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

The 5.9-magnitude quake struck early Wednesday near the Pakistani border city of Khost, and the death toll is expected to rise as many of the houses in the area were built of wood. , mud and other materials vulnerable to damage. .

Humanitarian agencies are converging on the area, but its remote location has complicated rescue efforts.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has successfully sent humanitarian aid and assistance to families in Paktika and Khost provinces to meet the needs of some 4,000 people, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General António Guterres said. during a press conference on Thursday.

Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said “priority needs include emergency shelter and non-food items, food assistance, health and water and sanitation, as well as hygiene support.”

He added that the World Food Program (WFP) has confirmed that food stocks will be able to serve at least 14,000 people in the province of Paktika, the most affected.

“At least 18 trucks are heading to the earthquake-affected areas with emergency supplies, including high-energy biscuits and mobile storage units,” the WFP said. statement published on Thursday said.
UNICEF Afghanistan tweeted that they were able to distribute “hygiene kits, winter kits, emergency family kitchen kits, tents, blankets, warm clothes and tarps” to affected people in Paktika and Khost.

The quake coincided with heavy monsoon rains and wind on June 20-22, hampering search efforts and helicopter travel.

As doctors and emergency personnel from across the country try to access the site, help is expected to be limited as several organizations withdrew from the aid-dependent country when the Taliban seized power in August last year.

Those that remain are stretched thin. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it had mobilized “all resources” from across the country, with teams on the ground providing medicines and emergency support. But, as one WHO official put it, “resources are stretched here, not just for this region.”

‘Very gloomy’

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

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

Baheer gives an example of how he has been acting as an information conduit with the WFP and other aid organizations, informing them that the Afghan Ministry of Defense was offering air support from humanitarian organizations to the worst affected areas.

Meanwhile, some people spent the night sleeping in makeshift shelters in the open, while rescuers searched for survivors with flashlights. The United Nations says 2,000 houses are believed to have been destroyed. Images from the badly affected Paktika province, where most of the deaths were reported, show houses reduced to dust and rubble.

Hsiao-Wei Lee, WFP’s deputy director in Afghanistan, described the situation on the ground as “very grim”, with some villages in the worst affected districts “completely decimated or 70% collapsed”, she said.

Members of a Taliban rescue team return from affected villages after an earthquake.

“There will be months and potentially years of rebuilding,” he said. “The needs are much bigger than just food… It could be shelter, for example, to be able to facilitate the movement of that food, as well as customs clearance, logistics would be helpful.”

Officials say aid is reaching the affected areas.

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

‘Carpet sanctioning an entire country and an entire people’

Although the economic crisis in Afghanistan has been brewing for years, as a result of conflict and drought, it sank to new depths after the Taliban took power, prompting the United States and its allies to freeze around $7 billion. of the country’s foreign exchange reserves and cut off international access. money.

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

The sanctions have crippled the Afghan economy and sent many of its 20 million people into a dire crisis of hunger. Millions of Afghans are out of work, government employees have not been paid and the price of food has skyrocketed.

Humanitarian aid is excluded from sanctions, but impediments exist, according to a draft statement by Martin Griffiths, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), ahead of a UN Security Council on the situation. in Afghanistan.

This includes a dire need for funding, the Taliban authorities “seeking to play a role in targeting beneficiaries and channeling assistance to people on their own priority lists” and the “formal banking system continuing to block transfers,” he writes.

This means that “around 80% of organizations (that responded to the OCHA follow-up survey) are facing delays in transferring funds, with two-thirds reporting that their international banks continue to deny transfers. More than 60% of organizations Organizations cite the lack of available cash in the country as a programmatic impediment.

A child stands next to an earthquake-damaged house in Bernal district, Paktika province, on June 23.

Baheer says the sanctions “are hurting us so much” that Afghans are having a hard time sending money to families affected by the earthquake.

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

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

While “the sanctions have affected much of the country, there is an exemption for humanitarian aid, so we are bringing it in to support those most in need,” UNICEF’s Mort told CNN.

The Taliban “do not prevent us from distributing something like this, on the contrary, they allow us to do so,” he added.

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

An Afghan man searches for his belongings in the ruins of an earthquake-damaged house.

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 could only send six rescue helicopters “because when the United States left it disabled most of the planes, whether they were from the Afghan forces or theirs.”

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

“400 injured Afghans moved into Pakistan this morning for treatment and an influx of people continues, these numbers are expected to increase later in the day,” Saif told CNN.

Pakistan has maintained a strict limit on Afghans entering the country through the land border crossing since the Taliban took power.

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

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