Afghanistan earthquake: Taliban calls for release of frozen funds

The 6.1-magnitude quake struck the east of the country early on Wednesday, killing more than 1,000 people

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Afghanistan's Taliban administration has called on international governments to lift a freeze on central bank assets after the earthquake that killed more than 1,000 people and left thousands homeless.

The 6.1-magnitude quake struck the east of the country early on Wednesday, killing more than 1,000 people and destroying or damaging 10,000 homes.

The disaster has created yet more strain on the country's fragile health system, posing a major test for the ruling Taliban.

Abdul Qahar Balkhi, Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman, told Reuters that the country was "asking the world to give the Afghans their most basic right, which is their right to life and that is through lifting the sanctions and unfreezing our assets and also giving assistance".

While humanitarian aid continues to flow to Afghanistan, funds needed for longer-term development were halted when the Taliban seized control of the country in August 2021 as foreign forces withdrew.

The administration of the hard-line group is not formally recognised by international governments.

Billions of US dollars in Afghan central bank reserves remain frozen overseas and sanctions hamper the banking sector, with the West pushing for concessions on human rights.

Western governments are particularly concerned about the rights of women and girls to work and study under Taliban rule. In March, the group stopped high schools for girls from opening.

Mr Balkhi said Afghans' right to life-saving funds should be the priority and accused the international community of handling concerns over human rights differently depending on the country involved.

"Is this rule universal? Because the United States just passed an anti-abortion law," he said, referring to the Supreme Court's overturning on Friday of the landmark Roe v Wade ruling that recognised a woman's right to an abortion.

"Sixteen countries in the world have taken away the rights of religious minorities, especially Muslims ... are they also facing sanctions because they are violating rights?"

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said the US government was working on "complicated questions about the use of these [frozen central bank] funds to ensure they benefit the people of Afghanistan and not the Taliban".

She said the US Agency for International Development was providing assistance with humanitarian organisations.

Thousands affected by the earthquake are in need of clean water and food and are prone to disease, an Afghan Health Ministry official said on Sunday, days after a UN agency gave a warning of a cholera outbreak in the region.

"The people are extremely needy for food and clean water," Sharafat Zaman told Reuters.

Volunteers prepare to distribute aid for earthquake victims in Gayan district, Paktika province. AFP

He said officials had managed medicine for now but handling those who had lost their homes would be a challenge.

"We ask the international community — humanitarian organisations — to help us for food and medicine, the survivor might catch diseases because they don’t have proper houses and shelters for living," he said.

The UN and several other countries have rushed aid to affected areas, with more due to arrive over the coming days.

In Kabul, hospitals more used to treating victims of war have opened their wards to earthquake victims but a majority of people remain in the areas destroyed by the earthquake.

The World Health Organisation on Sunday said nearly 10 tonnes of medicine and additional supplies had been shipped from Kabul to the affected areas.

The supplies are enough to provide medical treatment for 36,00 people for the next three months, the WHO said.

"An additional shipment of health supplies is due to arrive in the country from WHO’s logistics hub in Dubai in the coming days," it said.

The UN agency said it was closely monitoring cases of acute diarrhoea, measles and Covid-19 and was offering mental and psychosocial support to people affected by the quake.

“The earthquake was yet another tragic reminder of the various risks facing the Afghan people and how critical that Afghanistan should not become another forgotten emergency by the global community,” said Dr Dapeng Luo, the WHO representative in the country.

Hazrat Ali, 18, told a Reuters team in Wor Kali, a village of the hardest-hit Barmal district: "Our houses were destroyed, we have no tent ... there are lots of children with us. We have nothing. Our food and clothes ... everything is under rubble.

"I have lost my brothers, my heart is broken. Now we are just two. I loved them a lot."

Updated: June 26, 2022, 12:48 PM
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