Destruction everywhere, help scarce after the earthquake in Afghanistan

A child walks among the rubble of damaged houses after a powerful earthquake struck Bernal district in Paktika province June 23, 2022. Authorities estimate that at least 1,150 people have died.

Ahmad Sahel Arman | AFP | Getty Images

As the ground shook after the earthquake in Afghanistan last week, Nahim Gul’s stone-and-mud house collapsed on top of him.

He clawed through the rubble in the pre-dawn darkness, choking on dust as he searched for his father and two sisters. He doesn’t know how many hours of digging passed before he caught a glimpse of their bodies beneath the ruins. they were dead

Now, days after a magnitude 6 quake that devastated a remote region of southeastern Afghanistan and killed at least 1,150 people, authorities estimate, Gul sees destruction everywhere and help is scarce. His niece and nephew were also killed in the quake and were crushed by the walls of their home.

The United Nations has put the death toll at 770 people but warned it could rise further. Any toll would make Afghanistan’s quake the deadliest in two decades.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to us or how we’re going to start our lives over again,” Gul told The Associated Press on Sunday, his hands were bruised and his shoulder injured. “We have no money for reconstruction.”

It’s a fear shared by thousands in the impoverished villages where the quake’s fury has fallen the most — in Paktika and Khost provinces, along the rugged mountains that straddle the country’s border with Pakistan.

Those who narrowly missed lost everything. Many have yet to be visited by aid groups and authorities scrambling to reach the affected area on rutted roads – some impassable due to landslides and damage.

Aware of their limitations, the cash-strapped Taliban have appealed for foreign aid and on Saturday appealed to Washington to release billions of dollars in Afghanistan’s foreign exchange reserves. The United Nations and a number of international aid groups and countries have mobilized to send aid.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to us or how to start our lives over again. We have no money for reconstruction.

China pledged nearly $7.5 million in emergency humanitarian aid on Saturday, joining nations like Iran, Pakistan, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in a planeload of tents, towels, beds and other much-needed supplies to the area affected by the earthquake.

Deputy UN Special Envoy Ramiz Alakbarov traveled to the hard-hit Paktika province on Saturday to assess the damage and distribute food, medicine and tents. UN helicopters and trucks loaded with bread, flour, rice and blankets have entered the affected areas.

“Yesterday’s visit reaffirmed to me both the extreme suffering of the people of Afghanistan and their tremendous determination in the face of great adversity,” Alakbarov said, appealing for repairs to damaged water mains, roads and communication lines in the region.

Without support, he added, Afghans “would continue to endure unnecessary and unimaginable hardship.”

But relief efforts remain patchy and limited due to funding and access constraints. The Taliban, who took power last August from a government maintained for 20 years by a US-led military coalition, appear overwhelmed by the logistical complexities of issues like debris clearance, which is proving to be a major test of their ability to govern developed.

Villagers dug up their dead loved ones with their bare hands, buried them in mass graves and slept in the forest despite the rain. Nearly 800 families are living outdoors, according to United Nations Humanitarian Coordinating Organization OCHA.

Gul received a tent and blankets from a local charity in Gayan district, but he and his surviving relatives had to fend for themselves. Terrified as the ground still rumbles from aftershocks like one on Friday that killed five more, he said his children in Gayan refused to go inside.

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The earthquake was the latest disaster to rock Afghanistan, which has been reeling from a severe economic crisis since the Taliban took control of the country when the US and its NATO allies withdrew their forces. Foreign aid – a mainstay of the Afghan economy for decades – was halted virtually overnight.

World governments have imposed sanctions, halted bank transfers and paralyzed trade by refusing to recognize the Taliban government. The Biden administration has barred the Taliban from accessing $7 billion in US foreign exchange reserves.

Touring the disaster site, Afghan acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi urged the White House to release the funds “at a time when Afghanistan is being hit by earthquakes and floods” and to lift banking restrictions so charities can more easily provide aid.

Western donors have withheld longer-term aid as they demand the Taliban allow for more inclusive rule and respect human rights. The former insurgents have resisted the pressure and restricted freedoms for women and girls reminiscent of their first term in office in the late 1990s.

Now, about half of the country’s 39 million people face life-threatening food insecurity due to poverty. Most civil servants, including doctors, nurses and teachers, have not been paid for months.

UN agencies and other remaining organizations have scrambled to save Afghanistan from starvation with a humanitarian program that has fed millions and kept the medical system afloat. But with international donors lagging behind, UN agencies are facing a $3 billion funding deficit this year.

On Sunday, the World Health Organization announced it was stepping up surveillance for infectious diseases in earthquake-hit areas of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is one of the two remaining polio-endemic countries in the world.

The remote areas, struck by last Wednesday’s earthquake and war-torn and impoverished long before the Taliban took over, are particularly ill-equipped to cope.

Some local businessmen have taken action. The Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Investment said Sunday it had raised over $1.5 million for Pakitka and Khost provinces.

However, for those whose homes have been wiped out, the aid may not be enough.

“We have nothing left,” Gul said. Destruction everywhere, help scarce after the earthquake in Afghanistan

Joshua Buckhalter

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