UN says Afghan quake adds to emergencies in country

Starvation and human rights abuses also plague war-torn country

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The devastating earthquake this week in Afghanistan is one more emergency facing the country, which is also confronting its worst drought in 30 years, and widespread poverty.

Afghanistan also has the highest number of people in the world facing the risk of famine, and there are increasing human rights breaches by the country’s new Taliban rulers, senior UN officials said on Thursday.

The grim picture for Afghanistan’s 38 million people was presented by UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths and the UN deputy special representative for Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov.

They spoke during a Security Council meeting on the situation in Afghanistan, which was scheduled before Wednesday’s powerful quake in the east that Afghan state media said killed 1,000 people.

Hundreds more have been injured and officials have warned the casualty figures could rise as Afghans were still digging through the rubble to retrieve more bodies on Thursday.

Mr Griffiths said in a video briefing that “dramatic shifts in Afghanistan’s political and economic landscape” since the Taliban seized power last August “have brought unrelenting human suffering to the country’s people".

“Afghanistan’s worst drought in almost 30 years has affected three-quarters of its provinces, meaning crop production is expected to be below average this harvest,” he said.

Mr Griffiths said 25 million people, or two thirds of the population, live in poverty, more than double the number in 2011, including 6.6 million at “emergency” levels.

“That’s the highest number of any country in the world at risk of famine-like conditions,” he said.

Mr Alakbarov, the top UN official in Afghanistan, plans to visit quake-hit areas on Friday.

He said in a video briefing from Kabul that the quake “was yet another tragic reminder of the myriad dangers facing the Afghan people".

Mr Alakbarov said the security environment “is becoming increasingly unpredictable” with the emergence of armed opposition groups to the Taliban, “in large part due to political exclusion”, leading to clashes, especially in Panjshir and Baghlan provinces.

“Armed opposition attacks against de facto authorities doubled in May, compared to April,” he said.

Mr Alakbarov said Afghan families were grateful for humanitarian aid but they wanted jobs, a chance to look to the future and safety, which also means freedom of movement for women and men.

Mr Griffiths called the humanitarian response in the country “complex and difficult,” saying the formal banking system continues to block financial transfers, with about 80 per cent of aid organisations facing delays in transferring funds.

A second “impediment,” he said, was that the Taliban across the country increasingly seek “to play a role in the selection of beneficiaries and channelling assistance to people on their own priority lists".

Aid organisations struggle to hire women, Mr Griffiths said, and “there are more instances of interference today than in previous months.”

The UN also faces “a 66 per cent funding gap — a staggering, nearly $3 billion funding shortfall for the last six months of 2022", he said.

“Early funding and early action will be critical to avert a catastrophe this winter,” Mr Griffiths said.

Updated: June 24, 2022, 12:12 AM