Afghanistan earthquake: ‘What do we do when a new catastrophe occurs?’ 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, a lecturer in Transitional Justice at the American University of Afghanistan. “This is a very patchy, patchy solution to a problem that we need to start thinking about in the medium and long term … what do we do when (another disaster) occurs?” he told CNN by telephone.

The magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck early 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 thinly made of wood, mud and other materials that were vulnerable to damage. .

Humanitarian organizations are converging in the area, but it may take days before aid reaches 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 expected to reach villages early on 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 rain and earthquake has led to landslides in some areas, which makes the roads difficult to cross, “UNICEF’s Mort told CNN from Kabul.

The quake coincided with heavy monsoon rain and wind between 20 and 22 June, which has hindered search efforts and helicopter travel.

As medics 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 thin. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it had mobilized “all resources” from across the country, with teams on the ground 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 gap of communication, not only between countries and the Taliban, but also international aid organizations and the Taliban,” he added.

Baheer gives an example of how he has acted as a channel for information with the World Food Program and other aid organizations, and informs them that the Afghan Ministry of Defense offered air lift assistance from humanitarian organizations to hard-hit areas.

Meanwhile, some people spent the night sleeping in makeshift outdoor shelters, while rescuers searched for survivors with a flashlight. The UN says 2,000 homes are believed to have been destroyed. Pictures from the hard-hit Paktika province, where most deaths have been reported, show homes 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-stricken provinces, according to the Afghan Ministry of Defense’s official Twitter account. Medical and emergency relief teams deployed by the Afghan government are already present in the quake-hit areas, trying to transport the wounded 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 been raging for years, a result of conflict and drought, it plunged to new depths after the Taliban seized power, causing the United States and its allies to freeze around $ 7 billion of the country’s foreign reserves and cut off internationally. financing.

The United States no longer has a presence 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 move 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 food prices have risen.

A child stands 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 a new currency printed or brought into the country in the last nine to ten 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 instead of blanket sanctions for an entire country and an entire people.”

While “sanctions have affected large parts of the country, it is an exception to humanitarian aid, so we get it in to support the most needy,” Mort from UNICEF told CNN.

The Taliban “does 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 treatment and transportation for the injured, shelter and supplies for the displaced, food and water and clothing.

An Afghan man searches for his belongings among 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 they do not have search and rescue capabilities.

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

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

“400 injured Afghans have moved into Pakistan this morning for treatment and a flow of people continues, these numbers are expected to rise 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.