Devastating earthquake in Afghanistan, Taliban struggle to respond

Hundreds of people were killed in an earthquake in southeastern Afghanistan early Wednesday morning, exacerbating an already serious economic and humanitarian crisis in the country. Search and rescue operations are underway.

5.9 magnitude earthquake The greatest damage was caused to the mountainous regions of the provinces of Khost and Paktika, located in the southeast of Afghanistan and bordering Pakistan.

Afghan media showed footage of collapsed buildings and victims wrapped in blankets lying on the ground hours after the quake. Accurate information from remote mountain villages affected by the earthquake was limited.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, estimated that about 770 people were killed, at least 1,455 were injured, and nearly 1,500 houses were confirmed destroyed and damaged. The Taliban put the death toll at over 1,000.

On Wednesday evening, the Taliban Defense Ministry confirmed that 90% of search and rescue operations related to the earthquake had been completed. However, further assessments are underway on Thursday to confirm this, and the toll could increase, OCHA said.

Taliban Supreme Leader Haibatullah Akhundzade, who rarely appears in public, called on the international community and humanitarian organizations to “help the Afghan people who have suffered from this great tragedy and spare no effort.”

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said the global agency was “fully mobilized” to provide relief, and the UN confirmed that it had dispatched medical teams and supplies of medicines, food, trauma kits and an emergency shelter to the quake area.

A man collects his belongings from under the rubble of his house, which was destroyed by an earthquake in Khost province, Afghanistan, on June 22, 2022.

President Joe Biden has been monitoring developments in Afghanistan and has directed the US Agency for International Development and other federal government partners to assess how to help those hardest hit, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Thursday.

But until that happens, international aid will be limited given the tough sanctions imposed on the Taliban government last year after the fall of the US-backed Afghan government.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that the Turkish Red Crescent, which operates in Afghanistan, has sent humanitarian aid to the victims. On Thursday, a Taliban spokesman said aid had also arrived from Qatar, Iran and Pakistan by planes and trucks with items such as medicine, tents and tarps.

Help the Taliban

According to OCHA, humanitarian partners continue to provide assistance to affected families in Paktika and Khost provinces in coordination with the de facto authorities.

Taliban officials sent five helicopters and more than 45 ambulances to Paktika province to facilitate medical evacuations, according to OCHA. The Taliban leadership has allocated 100 million afghani (about $1.1 million) for aid.

Reuters informed that poor telecommunications networks and lack of proper roads hinder relief efforts.

“We can’t get to the area, the networks are too weak, we [are] trying to get updates,” Mohammad Ismail Muawiya, a spokesman for the top Taliban military commander in Paktika province, told Reuters.

According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, or IFRC, bad weather also makes transportation difficult.

“We are facing risks far greater than war.”

– Najib Aqa Fahim, Former Afghan Minister of State for Disaster Management

Mobile teams have already arrived in all earthquake-hit areas, said Dr. Ramiz Alekperov, UN Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan.

“Of course, like the UN, we do not have … special equipment to get people out of the rubble. This should be based mainly on the efforts de facto authorities, who also have certain restrictions in this regard,” he said. said.

“We are concerned not only with non-food items and the placement of people in shelters and the provision of medicines, but also the prevention of waterborne diseases,” Alekbarov said, adding that “this could be a very, very undesirable scenario.”

About $15 million in aid is needed to respond to the disaster, Alekbarov said, and that figure is likely to continue to rise as information on the situation on the ground becomes available.

“Responding to natural disasters is a complex and challenging task,” said former Afghan Minister of State for Disaster Management Najib Agha Fahim, who expressed doubts about the Taliban’s ability to respond in an interview with HuffPost. “The Taliban administration lacks experience in responding to natural disasters. The response to the severity of the incident was insufficient.”

Search And Rescue Operations Continue In Paktika, Afghanistan On June 22, 2022.  Many Buildings Were Damaged In The Gyan District Of Paktika Province, The Area Most Affected By The Earthquake.
Search and rescue operations continue in Paktika, Afghanistan on June 22, 2022. Many buildings were damaged in the Gyan district of Paktika province, the area most affected by the earthquake.

Syed Hodayberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Fahim said the Afghan disaster response infrastructure was damaged when the Taliban came to power. Unqualified members of the Taliban have replaced disaster management specialists at the level of ministries and provinces. The High Commission for Disaster Management, which previously served to coordinate between government agencies and international humanitarian organizations, is currently ineffective. There are no longer provincial or district disaster management committees or local councils to help coordinate and disseminate information.

“There is a lack of proper coordination, separation of tasks and clear procedures for a timely response to such incidents,” Fahim said.

This earthquake has only added to the many problems that affect Afghanistan. The economy was already struggling due to armed conflict and severe drought, and the US and its allies froze around $7 billion in foreign exchange reserves and withdrew international funding when the Taliban took power.

“The country is recovering from the effects of decades of conflict, prolonged severe drought, the effects of other intense climate-related natural disasters, extreme economic hardship, a devastated healthcare system and system-wide gaps,” the IFRC said on Wednesday, calling for more global support.

“Therefore, even if the disaster is contained, the scale of the humanitarian needs will be enormous.”

In This Photo Released By Pakistan'S National Disaster Management Authority, A Convoy Of Trucks Loaded With Relief Supplies, Including Tents, Blankets And Emergency Medicines, For Earthquake-Hit Areas In Afghanistan Prepare To Leave For Afghanistan On June 23, 2022.
In this photo released by Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, a convoy of trucks loaded with relief supplies, including tents, blankets and emergency medicines, for earthquake-hit areas in Afghanistan prepare to leave for Afghanistan on June 23, 2022.

National Disaster Management Administration via hotspot

“Warehouses and stocks are empty. The funds available are scarce,” Fahim said.

Fahim says that although some funds have been earmarked for aid, their use is taking a long time due to a lack of coordination within the Taliban leadership.

“My guess is that this weakness will lead to more damage and suffering if international aid organizations do not intervene immediately to fill this gap,” Fahim said.

Afghanistan is a country at high risk of being affected by any natural disaster, as it has already suffered from drought and flooding.

“We are facing risks far greater than war,” Fahim said. “Now we face additional challenges related to natural disasters. These concerns require understanding on the part of the current administration. We need leadership, strategy, experience and funding.”


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