World · June 24, 2022

Earthquake in Afghanistan: ‘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, concerns people working in the humanitarian space, such as Obaidullah Baheer, professor of Transitional Justice at the American University of Afghanistan. “This is a very patchwork and patchwork solution to a problem that we need to start thinking about (which) in the medium and long term … what do we do when (another disaster) strikes?” he told CNN by phone.

The 5.9 magnitude quake struck in the early hours of Wednesday near the town of Khost on the border with Pakistan and the death toll is expected to rise as many of the homes in the area were fragile in wood, mud and other materials vulnerable to damage.

Aid agencies are converging in the area, but it could take days for aid to reach the affected regions, which are among the most remote in the country.

The teams deployed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have yet to arrive, according to Anita Dullard, ICRC spokesperson for Asia Pacific. Shelley Thakral, a spokesperson for the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) in Kabul, said efforts to get aid in the affected areas were slowed by road conditions.

“The challenges we are facing, first of all, are geographical and logistical challenges because the area is so remote, rural and mountainous. Already yesterday there was a lot of rain here and the combination of rain and earthquake has led to landslides in some areas. making it difficult for roads to cross, “Afghan UNICEF communications chief Sam Mort told CNN from Kabul.

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

The quake coincided with heavy monsoon rains and wind between 20 and 22 June, which hampered searches and helicopter travel.

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

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

‘Very gloomy’

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

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

Baheer provides an example of how he acted as a liaison with WFP and other humanitarian organizations, informing them that the Ministry of Defense of Afghanistan was offering air transport aid to humanitarian organizations in severely affected areas.

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

Hsiao-Wei Lee, WFP Deputy Director in Afghanistan, described the situation on the ground as “very depressing”, where some of the villages in the heavily affected districts “are completely decimated or 70% have collapsed,” he said.

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

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

Officials say aid is reaching the affected areas.

The government has so far distributed food, tents, clothing and other supplies to the provinces affected by the earthquake, according to the official Twitter account of the Afghan Ministry of Defense. Medical and rescue teams deployed by the Afghan government are already present in the areas affected by the earthquake and are attempting to transport the injured to medical facilities and health centers by land and air, he added.

‘Carpet that sanctions an entire country and an entire people’

Although the economic crisis in Afghanistan has been looming for years, the result of conflicts and droughts, it plunged to new depths after the takeover of the Taliban, which prompted the United States and its allies to freeze approximately $ 7 billion in reserves. foreign countries and internationally cut funding.

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

The sanctions have paralyzed the Afghan economy and sent many of its 20 million people into severe hunger. Millions of Afghans are out of work, government employees have not been paid and the price of food has soared.

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

This includes an important need for funding, the Taliban authorities “seek to play a role in selecting beneficiaries and channeling assistance to people on their priority lists” and “the formal banking system continues to block transfers”, writes.

This means that “around 80% of organizations (who responded to the OCHA monitoring survey) are experiencing delays in transferring funds, with two thirds reporting that their international banks continue to deny transfers. Over 60 % of organizations cite the lack of available money in the country as a programmatic impediment “.

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

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

“The fact that we barely have a banking system, the fact that we haven’t had any new currency printed or introduced into the country in the last 9-10 months, our assets are frozen … these sanctions don’t work,” he said.

He added: “The only sanctions that have a moral sense are targeted sanctions on specific individuals rather than sanctions to sweep 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 doing it to support those most in need,” UNICEF’s Mort told CNN.

The Taliban “are not preventing us from distributing anything like that, on the contrary they are allowing us,” he added.

Experts and officials say the most urgent immediate needs include medical care and transportation for the injured, shelter and supplies for the displaced, food and 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 has warned it has no search and rescue capabilities.

Baheer told CNN on Wednesday that the Taliban were only able to send six rescue helicopters “because when the United States was leaving they disabled most of the planes whether they belonged to the Afghan forces or to them.”

According to Mohammad Ali Saif, a spokesman for the regional government, Pakistan has offered to help open border crossings in its northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkwa and allow wounded Afghans to enter the country without visas for treatment.

“400 injured Afghans moved to Pakistan this morning for treatment and a flow of people continues, these numbers are expected to increase by the end of 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 over.

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