Relief efforts step up in Afghanistan after devastating earthquake

Relief efforts stepped up on Friday to help victims of the deadly earthquake which hit an impoverished region of southeastern Afghanist...

Relief efforts stepped up on Friday to help victims of the deadly earthquake which hit an impoverished region of southeastern Afghanistan this week in a disaster that has killed hundreds and devastated a country already on the brink of economic collapse nearly a year on the taliban took over.

As hopes of finding survivors faded, a second earthquake on Friday rocked Geyan, the district hardest hit by Wednesday’s 5.9 magnitude earthquake. The subsequent earthquake killed at least five other people and injured 11 others, according to local officials.

This is in addition to the hundreds of deaths and many others injured on Wednesday in the provinces of Paktika and Khost, both bordering Pakistan. According to Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, more than 1,000 people died and at least 3,000 others were injured; the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs put the death toll at 770 on Wednesday.

Large numbers of people are missing and aid agencies have said they expect the toll in this rugged region, where communications and access are difficult, to rise.

The news of new tremors came as rescue efforts after Wednesday’s earthquake were winding down and Taliban officials made more calls for help from aid agencies and international governments. Taliban and local officials said they did not expect to find more survivors.

The harsh terrain and harsh weather conditions in the affected region have made it difficult to send aid quickly to Paktika province, according to Mohammad Nasim Haqqani, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Disaster Management.

But as early as Friday morning, a flood of aid from governments and international agencies began arriving by air and road. Volunteers carried all the aid and supplies they could in their cars in a makeshift convoy along steep, unpaved mountain roads.

A group of 15 trucks sent by the Ministry of Disaster Management carrying emergency shelter and food – including rice, oil and flour – had reached the province and supplies were already being distributed. , according to Haqqani, who said the Afghan government had allocated 100 million Afghans, or about $1.1 million, to help survivors.

Planes full of medical supplies and aid from India, Iran and the United Arab Emirates began arriving early Friday, according to Mr. Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman.

The Taliban said Thursday that some supplies had also arrived from Pakistan and Qatar. The United States, along with the United Nations and the World Health Organization, have also taken steps to help. South Korea promised $1 million in humanitarian aid.

Across Afghanistan, an army of volunteers, made up of teachers, students and young professionals, has deployed to raise funds and supplies. Najib Alkozai, 34, a journalist from Nangarhar province who lost his job at a local TV station after the Taliban took over last year, said he worked with a team in the city of Jalalabad to collect donations.

“People gave more than $3,000 yesterday,” Alkozai said, adding that the donations came from people from all walks of life, including “labourers, construction workers, farmers, teachers.”

While the earthquake was considered moderate in magnitude, it wreaked havoc in southeastern Afghanistan, where many houses are made of masonry or even mud and could not withstand the force of the jerks. According to the World Food Programme, more than 2,100 houses were damaged in Khost and Paktika, with the worst damage concentrated in Paktika.

In Geyan alone, one of the districts in the province that was hit by the quake, the World Food Program said 1,500 houses were damaged or destroyed. Afghanistan’s disaster management ministry said the damage was even greater, estimating that more than 10,000 homes had been affected.

The disaster could hardly have come at a worse time for Afghanistan, a country of 39 million people that has been in the throes of economic collapse since the Taliban took power in August and toppled a government that had been backed for two decades by the support of the West. governments and a military coalition led by the United States.

Before the Taliban took power, foreign aid financed 75% of the Afghan government’s budget. The Taliban have since struggled to attract foreign money as Western donors balk at decrees prohibiting girls from attending school and restriction of women’s rights, among other concerns.

In this context, the earthquake presented a major test of the Taliban regime.

While some trained ministry officials stayed on after the Taliban took over, most left, limiting the pool of experience the government can draw on to help coordinate relief efforts.

The disaster was also a test for the Biden administration’s approach to the Taliban; the United States currently refuses to recognize or provide financial assistance to the group.

US assistance to Afghanistan has continued, with more than $1 billion sent directly to humanitarian programs in the country over the past year. But many rights advocates say Washington must work with the Taliban government and provide it with economic aid to lastingly alleviate widespread suffering.

Taliban officials are also calling on Western countries to provide more aid to their country in the wake of the disaster. On Thursday, a senior disaster management ministry official, Ghulam Ghous Naseri, urged donor countries to “not politicize” their aid and to “continue helping the Afghan people”. according to Tolo News, an agency based in Kabul, the capital.

So far, the Biden administration has rejected requests for direct funding from the Afghan government, insisting that the Taliban respect their previous vows to allow women to go to school and work and honor their promise to refuse the asylum to terrorist groups. US officials fear the Taliban may steal or divert US aid for unintended purposes.

In statements Wednesday, senior Biden administration officials said they were open to discussing post-earthquake humanitarian relief with the Taliban government.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington has not received a direct request for assistance. But he added that he expected the aid “to be a topic of conversation between US officials and Taliban officials in the coming days”.

Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, said in a statement that President Biden had ordered the federal government “to assess American response options.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Relief efforts step up in Afghanistan after devastating earthquake
Relief efforts step up in Afghanistan after devastating earthquake
Newsrust - US Top News
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