By Ibrahim Noorozhi and Rahim Faiz
GAYAN, Afghanistan ( Associated Press) – A Nahim Gul stone and mud house fell on top of it when last week’s earthquake struck Afghanistan.
In search of his father and two sisters he suffocated through the rubble in the dark before dawn, suffocating from the dust. He doesn’t know how many hours he spent digging before he caught a glimpse of their bodies beneath the ruins. They were dead.
Now, after a magnitude 6 earthquake that devastated a remote region of southeast Afghanistan and killed at least 1,150 people and injured hundreds more, Gul sees destruction everywhere and help in short supply. . His nieces and nephews were also killed in the earthquake, crushed by the walls of their house.
“I don’t know what will happen to us or how we should start our lives again,” Gul told the Associated Press on Sunday. “We don’t have any money to rebuild.”
This fear is shared among the thousands of impoverished villages where earthquakes have hit the hardest – in Paktika and Khost provinces, with jagged mountains that straddle the country’s border with Pakistan.
Those who were barely scraping have lost everything. Many not yet visited by aid groups and officials are struggling to reach the infested area on rough roads – some made impassable by landslides and damage.
Aware of its constraints, the cash-strapped Taliban called for foreign aid and urged Washington on Saturday to free up billions of dollars in Afghanistan’s currency reserves. An array of UN and international aid groups and countries have mobilized to send help.
China on Saturday pledged nearly $7.5 million in emergency humanitarian aid to countries including Iran, Pakistan, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to send tents, towels, bedding and other badly needed supplies to the quake-hit region.
UN Deputy Special Representative Ramiz Alkabarov visited the affected Paktika province on Saturday to assess the damage and distribute food, medicine and tents. UN helicopters and trucks carrying bread, flour, rice and blankets have entered the affected areas.
But relief efforts are weak due to lack of funding and access. The Taliban, which seized power last August from a government held for 20 years by a US-led military coalition, appears overwhelmed by the logistical complexities of issues such as debris removal, a major test of a regime’s ability to rule. is becoming.
Villagers dug up their dead loved ones with bare hands, buried them in mass graves and slept in the forest despite the rain. According to OCHA, the UN humanitarian organization, around 800 families are living in the open.
Gul got a tent and blanket from a local charity in Gyan district, but she and her surviving relatives had to take care of themselves. Five more people lost their lives because of the fear of the earth still rumbling from the aftershocks after the quake as on Friday, he said, adding that his children in Gian refused to go inside the house.
The earthquake was the latest disaster to baffle Afghanistan, which is grappling with a dire economic crisis as the Taliban took control of the country as the US and its NATO allies withdrew their forces. Foreign aid, the mainstay of Afghanistan’s economy for decades, was cut off overnight.
World governments piled on sanctions, halted bank transfers and crippled trade, refusing to recognize the Taliban government. The Biden administration cut the Taliban’s access to $7 billion in foreign exchange reserves held in the United States.
As he visited the disaster site, Acting Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaki urged the White House to release funds and lift banking restrictions “at a time when Afghanistan is vulnerable to earthquakes and floods” so that donations can be more easily aided. be able to provide
Western donors have withheld long-term aid as they call on the Taliban to allow more inclusive governance and respect human rights. Former rebels who have resisted pressure by imposing restrictions on the liberties of women and girls remember their first in power in the late 1990s.
Now, nearly half of the country’s 39 million people face life-threatening levels of food insecurity due to poverty. Most civil servants, including doctors, nurses and teachers, have not been paid for months.
UN agencies and other remaining organizations have scrambled to save Afghanistan from the brink of starvation with a humanitarian program that has fed millions and kept the medical system afloat. But with international donors lagging behind, UN agencies are facing a $3 billion funding shortfall this year.
The war-torn and poor, long before the Taliban takeover, are particularly ill-equipped to cope in the remote areas hit by last Wednesday’s earthquake.
Some local businessmen have swung into action. The Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Investment said on Sunday that it had raised more than $1.5 million for the provinces of Pakitka and Khost.
Still, for those whose homes have been destroyed, help may not be enough.
“We have nothing left,” said Gul.
Faiz reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writers Isabel Debre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.