At Least 1,000 Killed in Afghanistan Earthquake, Officials Say

At Least 1,000 Killed in Afghanistan Earthquake, Officials Say

Credit…Bryan Denton for The New York Times

Roadblocks, roadside bombs, ambushes and kidnappings were the kind of threats humanitarian workers operating in Afghanistan faced for two decades during the Taliban insurgency. Parts of the country were totally off limits as the conflict came and went, and even on the open roads the risk of gunfights remained real.

Yet last August, the Taliban seized power, ending the war and improving security for millions of residents and aid workers.

“There is no active conflict right now,” said Babar Baloch, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency who began working in the country more than two decades ago. “We have more access.”

That access should make it easier to deliver relief after the deadliest earthquake in two decades that killed at least 1,000 people and injured more than 1,600.

“We are rushing supplies for the earthquake and for other humanitarian emergencies,” said Mr. Baloch.

But even as access has improved, other developments since last August have spiked humanitarian needs and brought unforeseen problems, aid workers say.

Most notable is the loss of financial, technical, and security assistance from Western governments that were desperate for the country to emerge as a democracy after the Taliban was overthrown in 2001.

That flood of aid more than doubled the nation’s annual gross domestic product per capita, from about $200 in 2001 to about $500 last year, according to World Bank figures. But those gains weren’t evenly distributed: Rural areas saw less change than cities like the capital Kabul and the southern city of Kandahar.

The economy has contracted drastically since the Taliban took power. Foreign investors and governments pulled out and many skilled workers fled, while the United States and other Western countries froze government bank accounts now controlled by the Taliban.

As the country battles drought and famine, half of Afghanistan’s estimated 40 million people need humanitarian aid, the UN said in January when it asked member countries for more than $5 billion for the people of Afghanistan, while governments struggle with how to support a population in need while avoiding helping the Taliban themselves.

“Part of the population of Afghanistan is already in a humanitarian crisis, with people buying expired bread that is normally fed to animals,” UN Resident Coordinator in Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov said on Wednesday, referring to trends in the country. During last year. . “This adds to the burden” of dealing with the earthquake.

In addition, aid workers face an institutional challenge rarely seen in other countries: coordinating operations with officials who were part of an insurgent force for a long time, but are now trying to transition to a full-fledged government.

In a measure of the dynamic, Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry, asked those wishing to help “from anywhere in the world” to donate to the country’s Red Crescent arm, which would deliver aid to victims in “full transparency”.

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