More aid coming to Afghanistan to boost earthquake relief

by Barbara R. Abercrombie
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Cargo planes from Pakistan and Qatar carrying relief supplies for Afghan earthquake survivors have landed at Khost airport, officials said on Saturday, as rescuers struggle to deliver aid to remote regions after Wednesday’s devastating earthquake.

According to state media, thousands have been left homeless or injured in the magnitude 5.9 earthquake in Paktika and Khost provinces, which killed 1,150 people. An aftershock on Friday claimed another five lives.

The United Nations Children’s Agency representative in Afghanistan said 121 children have died, and the number is expected to rise.

Authorities have now ended the search for survivors of the earthquake that also injured nearly 2,000 people in what is being billed as the deadliest disaster in almost two decades.

People in Paktika province are desperate for food, shelter, and drinking water as humanitarian aid has been delayed due to poor infrastructure and the diplomatic and financial isolation of the Afghan government led by the Taliban.

Survivor Dawlat Khan in the Gayan district of Paktika province said five family members were injured, and the earthquake destroyed his home.

Afghan men gather to collect relief supplies in Gayan, Afghanistan [Reuters]

“We run into a lot of problems. We need all kinds of support, and we are asking the international community and the Afghans who can help to come forward and help us,” he said.

Mansoor Ahmad Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador in the Afghan capital, Kabul, said relief supplies shipped from Pakistan on Saturday had been handed over to Taliban officials.

“It was our duty to help our Afghan brothers during this difficult time,” he said.

Calls for the release of Afghan assets

Overloaded aid agencies said the disaster highlighted the need for the international community to reconsider Afghanistan’s financial lockdown since the Taliban conquered the country ten months ago when US-led forces withdrew after 20 years of war and occupation.

Those policies, which cut billions in aid and froze vital reserves, have collapsed the aid-dependent economy and plunged Afghanistan deeper into humanitarian crises and near famine. Nearly 75 percent of the Afghan economy was supported by foreign aid before the Taliban takeover.

A call has been made for the United States to release frozen Afghan assets and waive sanctions to allow financial transactions.

Washington holds about $7 billion in Afghan reserves. The Joe Biden administration decided to distribute the money among the victims of the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and return only half of its total resources to Kabul – an action labeled as “theft”.

Becky Roby, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) advocacy group in Afghanistan, previously told Al Jazeera that the banking challenges posed by the US sections made the humanitarian response more difficult.

A view shows a damaged mosque after the recent earthquake in the village of Wor Kali in the Barmal district of Paktika province [Ali Khara/Reuters]

The US State Department said Washington “supports the people of Afghanistan and will continue to lead the international community in responding to their humanitarian needs.”

Afghanistan was already facing a dire humanitarian situation due to a decades-long war.

While the Taliban have announced a 1 billion Afghan ($11 million) aid package for the victims, Afghan officials have appealed for contributions from other countries and international partners.

Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the interim Taliban government is “urging the US to lift sanctions on the Afghan banking system to speed up the humanitarian aid delivery process.” is accelerated and facilitated”.

“Likewise, Afghan bank reserves have thawed,” he said, pointing to $7 billion of frozen foreign exchange reserves.

Hua Chunying, a China’s foreign ministry spokesman, tweeted Friday: “I saw US officials claim that the US ‘stands behind the people of Afghanistan.’ So why not return the $7 billion to the Afghans?”

Beijing will provide humanitarian aid worth $7.5 million (50 million yuan) to Afghanistan. The assistance includes tents, towels, beds, and other equipment, the foreign ministry said on its website.

Cholera outbreak feared

The roads through the mountains, already slow to drive on, were made worse by earthquake damage and rain. The International Red Cross has five hospitals in the region. Still, road damage made reaching those in the worst-affected areas difficult, said Lucien Christen, ICRC spokesman in Afghanistan.

Also, on Saturday, an Afghan military helicopter was carrying food and other supplies to people in Gayan. Dozens of men and children gathered in an open space under the hot sun to wait for food, water, and tents from the Afghan Red Crescent.

The aid agency said it distributed relief supplies to about 1,000 families in the district, including food, tents, and clothing.

Humanitarian aid to go to Khost is loaded onto a plane at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar [Imad Creidi/Reuters]

In Urgan, the main city in Paktika province, the medical supplies of the UN World Health Organization were unloaded at the main hospital. In earthquake-stricken villages, UNICEF provided blankets, basic supplies, and tarps for homeless people to use as tents.

Aid groups said they fear cholera could break out after damage to water and sanitation systems.

In the Spera district of Khost province, UNICEF handed out water purification tablets on Saturday, along with soap and other hygiene equipment.

Since the return of the Taliban in August last year, Islamabad has taken the lead in pressuring the world to cooperate with the Taliban-led Afghan government, which has yet to be recognized by any country in the world.

Previously, the Pakistani government and a Pakistani charity had sent 13 trucks of food, tents, life-saving medicines, and other essential items to Afghanistan.

A 19-member team from Pakistan, consisting of doctors and paramedics, has assisted the Afghan Taliban government in Khost with medical treatment for those injured in the earthquake.

Officials said on Saturday that Pakistan had opened its border in the northwest to transport seriously injured Afghans to hospitals in Pakistan. But it was unclear how many Afghans arrived for medical treatment from the earthquake-affected areas of northwest Pakistan.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also spoke with Acting Afghan Prime Minister Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund and assured him of Islamabad’s continued support.

Qatar, Iran, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and India have sent emergency aid to the country, while self-governing Taiwan has pledged to donate $1 million to the earthquake victims.

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