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Relief efforts intensify in Afghanistan after devastating earthquake

Relief efforts were stepped up on Friday to assist victims of a deadly earthquake that hit an impoverished area in southeastern Afghanistan this week in a disaster that has left hundreds dead and maimed. destroyed a country in economic decline nearly a year after the Taliban took power.

As hopes of finding survivors faded, a second earthquake on Friday rocked Geyan, the county hardest hit by a 5.9-magnitude storm on Wednesday. According to local officials, the ensuing quake killed at least five people and injured 11 others.

That added hundreds of people killed and many more injured on Wednesday in Paktika and Khost provinces, both of which lie on the border with Pakistan. According to Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, more than 1,000 people died and at least 3,000 others were injured; The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Wednesday put the current death toll at 770.

A large number of missing people and aid agencies say they expect toll rates in the rugged area, where communication and access are difficult, to increase.

News of the fresh tremors comes as rescue efforts from Wednesday’s quake are dwindling and as Taliban officials make multiple calls for assistance from aid agencies and the international government. economic. The Taliban and local authorities say they do not expect to find any more survivors.

According to Mohammad Nasim Haqqani, spokesman for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Disaster Management, the harsh terrain and difficult weather conditions in the affected area make it difficult to send aid quickly to Paktika province.

But since Friday morning, an influx of aid from governments and international agencies has begun to arrive via air and land. Volunteers carried whatever aid and supplies they could in their cars in a makeshift convoy along steep, unpaved mountain roads.

According to Haqqani, Haqqani, who said the Afghan government, a group of 15 trucks sent by the Ministry of Disaster Management to carry emergency housing and food – including rice, oil and flour – had arrived in the province and other areas. supplies have been distributed. has allocated 100 million afghani, or about $1.1 million, to help survivors.

Planes loaded with medical supplies and aid from India, Iran and the United Arab Emirates began arriving on Friday, according to Taliban spokesman Mujahid.

On Thursday, the Taliban said some supplies had also come from Pakistan and Qatar. The United States, along with the United Nations and World Health Organization, also took steps to provide aid. South Korea has promised 1 million USD in humanitarian assistance.

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

“Yesterday, people donated more than $3,000,” said Alkozai, adding that donations come from people from all walks of life, including “unskilled workers, construction workers , farmers, teachers”.

While the quake is considered moderate intensity, it devastated southeastern Afghanistan, where many houses are made of brick or even mud and cannot withstand the force of the tremor. According to the World Food Program, more than 2,100 homes are estimated to have been damaged in Khost and Paktika, with the heaviest damage concentrated in Paktika.

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

Disaster is unlikely to come at a worse time for Afghanistan, a country of 39 million people on the verge of economic collapse since the Taliban took power in August and toppled a maintained government. maintained for two decades with support from the West. governments and a military coalition led by the United States.

Before the Taliban took over, foreign aid funded 75% of the Afghan government’s budget. The Taliban have since struggled to attract foreign money as Western donors disagreed with edicts banning girls from school and restricting women’s rights, among other concerns.

Against that backdrop, the earthquake was a major test of Taliban rule.

While some trained ministry officials remained in their roles after the Taliban took power, most left, limiting the source of experience the government can draw on to help coordinate relief efforts.

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

US aid to Afghanistan continues, 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 economic assistance to the force to alleviate widespread suffering on a long-term basis.

Taliban officials are also calling for more aid from Western nations in the wake of the disaster. On Thursday, a senior official at the Department of Disaster Management, Ghulam Ghous Naseri, urged donor countries to “not politicize” their help and “continue to give aid to the people of Afghanistan,” according to the statement. Tolo News, an agency based in Kabul, the capital.

So far, the Biden administration has rejected an offer of direct funding from the Afghan government, insisting that the Taliban fulfill their previous oath to allow women to go to school and work and follow through on promises from them. deny sanctuaries to terrorist groups. US officials expressed concern that the Taliban could steal or divert US aid for unintended uses.

In Wednesday’s statement, senior Biden administration officials signaled that they were open to discussing earthquake humanitarian relief with the Taliban government.

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

Jake Sullivan, national security adviser, said in a statement that President Biden has directed the federal government to “assess the United States’ response options.”

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