Afghanistan’s Taliban appealed for international aid Thursday as the war-ravaged country struggles to deal with the aftermath of a powerful earthquake that killed at least 1,000 people, injured many more and destroyed nearly 2,000 households.
The 6.1 magnitude quake struck eastern and southeastern Afghan provinces, bordering Pakistan, during the early hours of Wednesday. Officials said the calamity had buried entire families, including women and children, under the rubble across districts in the worst-hit provinces, Paktika and Khost.
On Thursday, authorities and aid workers struggled to reach the disaster zone, citing lack of communications and proper road networks in some of the poorest and most remote areas in Afghanistan. The most affected areas lack infrastructure to withstand calamities like this week’s earthquake, the worst in two decades.
Heavy rains and mudslides also hampered rescue efforts, forcing displaced families to spend the night without any shelter. Provincial health director Hematullah Esmat told local media that at least 3,000 families needed urgent humanitarian aid in Paktika alone.
Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a Taliban foreign ministry spokesman in Kabul, said that victims were urgently in need food, drinking water, medicine, mobile medical teams, warm clothing and shelter.
“But even more crucial for [the] U.S. to end callous attitude towards lives of Afghans by lifting sanctions and unfreezing Afghan assets so people can rebuild their lives destroyed by two-decade occupation and this latest natural disaster,” Balkhi told VOA.
“People and relief agencies that want to help rebuild lives of families - majority of whom have lost [their] sole breadwinners in earthquake - are unable to send much needed money. This depraved cruelty needs to end urgently,” Balkhi argued.
He said the government quickly deployed a few helicopters to help in rescue efforts, but they needed more of them because emergency rescue teams and relief aid have to be delivered by air.
Balkhi reiterated the majority of Afghan aircraft were “damaged beyond repair or taken to third countries by the United States” before the Taliban seized power last August.
The United Nations World Food Program said Thursday that post-disaster assessments were still ongoing but it had rapidly deployed food and logistics equipment to provide emergency relief to an initial 3,000 households in the earthquake-affected areas.
"The Afghan people are already facing an unprecedented crisis following decades of conflict, severe drought and an economic downturn,” said Gordon Craig, the WFP deputy country director.
“The earthquake will only add to the already massive humanitarian needs they endure daily, including for the nearly 19 million people across the country who face acute hunger and require assistance,” Craig added.
Taliban officials said trucks and aircraft carrying humanitarian aid, including, food, medicine, shelter, and other necessities arrived from Pakistan, Iran and Qatar on Thursday. The relief was being transported onward to the calamity-hit areas, they said.
The Islamist group took over Afghanistan days after U.S. and NATO partners withdrew their final troops on August 30, ending almost two decades of foreign military intervention in the South Asian nation.
Washington and other Western countries swiftly halted financial assistance to largely aid-dependent Afghanistan, seized its foreign assets worth more than $9 billion, mostly held by the U.S, and isolated the Afghan banking system.
The actions and long-running terrorism-related sanctions on senior Taliban leaders pushed the war-hit Afghan economy to the brink of collapse, deteriorating an already bad Afghan humanitarian crisis blamed on years of war and persistent drought.
The international community has not yet recognized the Islamist Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan, citing concerns over terrorism and human rights.
The U.S. government Wednesday expressed “deep sorrow” for the Afghan quake victims.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement that President Joe Biden was “monitoring developments and has directed USAID and other federal government partners to assess U.S. response options to help those most affected.”
Sullivan underscored that the U.S. was the single largest donor of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and its humanitarian partners were already delivering medical care as well as shelter puppies on the ground.
“We are committed to continuing our support for the needs of the Afghan people as we stand with them during and in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy.”
The U.S. Geological Survey said Wednesday the earthquake struck about 44km from the southeastern Afghan city, Khost, at a depth of 51km.
Tremors were felt across more than 500km of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, according to the European Mediterranean Seismological Center.