Earthquake in Afghanistan: “What will we do when another disaster strikes?” Afghans face crises on all fronts

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

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

Humanitarian services are drawn to the area, but its remoteness complicates rescue efforts.

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

Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman, said “priority needs include emergency shelter and non-food items, food aid, healthcare, water and sanitation, and hygiene support.”

He added that the World Food Program (WFP) had confirmed that there were enough food supplies for at least 14,000 people in the hardest-hit province of Paktika.

“At least 18 trucks are heading to earthquake-affected areas with emergency supplies, including high-calorie biscuits and mobile storage,” the WFP said in a statement. statement released on Thursday said.
UNICEF Afghanistan tweeted that they were able to distribute “hygiene kits, winter kits, emergency family kitchen kits, tents, blankets, warm clothing and tarpaulins” to those affected in Paktika and Khost.
Men stand around the bodies of those killed in the earthquake in the village of Gayan, Paktika province, Afghanistan, on June 23.

The earthquake coincided with strong monsoonal rain and wind from June 20 to 22, which hampered search operations and helicopter flights.

As medics and emergency workers from across the country struggle to access the site, aid is expected to be limited as a number of organizations fled the aid-dependent country when the Taliban took power last August.

Those that remain are stretched out. 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 care. But, as one WHO official put it, “there are not enough resources here, and not just for this region.”

“Very dark”

International hesitation in dealing with the Taliban and the group’s “very confusing bureaucracy where it becomes difficult to get information from one source” has led to a communication gap in the rescue effort, Bahir, who is also the founder of the Save the Afghans aid group. from hunger, he said.

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

Bahir gives an example of how he acted as a conduit for WFP and other aid organizations, informing them that the Afghan Ministry of Defense offered to airlift aid from humanitarian organizations to hard-hit areas.

Meanwhile, some people spent the night in makeshift shelters in the open air, while rescuers with flashlights scoured for survivors. According to the United Nations, 2,000 houses were destroyed. Photos from the hard-hit province of Paktika, where most of the deaths have been recorded, show houses reduced to dust and ruins.

Xiao-Wei Li, WFP Deputy Country Director for Afghanistan, described the situation on the ground as “very grim” with some villages in hard-hit areas “completely destroyed or 70% destroyed,” she said.

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

“There will be months and possibly years of recovery,” she said. “The needs are much more than just food … It could be, for example, housing to be able to facilitate the movement of this food, as well as customs clearance, logistics would be useful.”

Officials say aid is reaching the affected areas.

So far, the government has been distributing food, tents, clothing and other supplies to quake-hit provinces, according to the official Afghan Defense Ministry Twitter account. Medical and rescue teams deployed by the Afghan government are already in the quake-affected areas and are trying to transport the wounded to medical facilities and health centers by land and air, he added.

“A 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 plunged into new depths after the Taliban seized power, prompting the US and its allies to freeze the country’s nearly $7 billion in foreign exchange reserves and cut off international funding.

The US is no longer present in Afghanistan following the hasty withdrawal of its troops and the collapse of the previous US-backed Afghan government. Like almost all other countries, it does not have official relations with the Taliban government.

The sanctions have hurt the Afghan economy and left many of its 20 million people facing a severe hunger crisis. Millions of Afghans are out of work, government employees are not being paid, and food prices have skyrocketed.

Humanitarian assistance is exempt from sanctions, but there are hurdles, says UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) chief Martin Griffiths’ draft remarks to the UN Security Council on the situation in Afghanistan.

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

This means that “about 80% of organizations (responding to the OCHA monitoring survey) experience delays in transferring funds, with two-thirds reporting that their international banks continue to refuse transfers. More than 60% of organizations cite the lack of cash in the country as a programming hindrance.”

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

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

“The fact that we have almost no banking system, the fact that in the last nine to ten months we have not printed or brought new currency into the country, our assets are frozen … these sanctions do not work,” he said. .

He added: “The only sanctions that make moral sense are targeted sanctions against specific individuals, not carpet sanctions against the entire country and the entire people.”

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

The Taliban “do not stop us from spreading something like this, on the contrary, they allow us,” she added.

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

An Afghan man searches for his belongings among the ruins of a house that was hit by an earthquake.

The UN has distributed medical supplies and sent mobile medical teams to Afghanistan, but has warned it lacks search and rescue assets.

Bahir 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 aircraft, whether they belonged to the Afghan forces or them.”

Pakistan has offered assistance by opening checkpoints in its northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkwa and allowing wounded Afghans to enter the country without a visa for treatment, according to Mohammad Ali Saif, a regional government spokesman.

“This morning, 400 wounded Afghans arrived in Pakistan for treatment and the flow of people continues, and this number is expected to increase by the end of the day,” Saif told CNN.

Pakistan has placed tight restrictions on Afghans entering the country through the land border crossing since the Taliban came to power.

Richard Roth of CNN, Robert Shackleford, Yong Xiong, Jesse Jung, Sophia Saifi, Mohammed Shafi Kakar and Aliza Kassim contributed to this report.