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Destruction, Help Scarce in Afghanistan06/26 08:40

   

   GAYAN, Afghanistan (AP) -- When the ground heaved from last week's 
earthquake in Afghanistan, Nahim Gul's stone-and-mud house collapsed on top of 
him.

   He clawed through the rubble in the pre-dawn darkness, choking on dust as he 
searched for his father and two sisters. He doesn't know how many hours of 
digging passed before he caught a glimpse of their bodies under the ruins. They 
were dead.

   Now, days after a 6 magnitude quake 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 niece and 
nephew were also killed in the quake, crushed by the walls of their house.

   "I don't know what will happen to us or how we should restart our lives," 
Gul told The Associated Press on Sunday, his hands bruised and his shoulder 
injured. "We don't have any money to rebuild."

   It's a fear shared among thousands in the impoverished villages where the 
fury of the quake has fallen most heavily -- in Paktika and Khost provinces, 
along the jagged mountains that straddle the country's border with Pakistan.

   Those who were barely scraping by have lost everything. Many have yet to be 
visited by aid groups and authorities, which are struggling to reach the 
afflicted area on rutted roads -- some made impassable by landslides and damage.

   Aware of its constraints, the cash-strapped Taliban have called for foreign 
assistance and on Saturday appealed to Washington to unfreeze billions of 
dollars in Afghanistan's currency reserves. The United Nations and an array of 
international aid groups and countries have mobilized to send help.

   China pledged Saturday nearly $7.5 million in emergency humanitarian aid, 
joining nations including Iran, Pakistan, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates 
and Qatar in dispatching a planeload of tents, towels, beds and other badly 
needed supplies to the quake-hit area.

   U.N. Deputy Special Representative Ramiz Alakbarov toured the affected 
Paktika province on Saturday to assess the damage and distribute food, medicine 
and tents. U.N. helicopters and trucks laden with bread, flour, rice and 
blankets have trickled into the stricken areas.

   But the relief effort remains patchy due to funding and access constraints. 
The Taliban, which seized power last August from a government sustained for 20 
years by a U.S.-led military coalition, appears overwhelmed by the logistical 
complexities of issues like debris removal in what is shaping up to be a major 
test of its capacity to govern.

   Villagers have dug out their dead loved ones with their bare hands, buried 
them in mass graves and slept in the woods despite the rain. Nearly 800 
families are living out in the open, according to the U.N.'s humanitarian 
coordination organization OCHA.

   Gul received a tent and blankets from a local charity in the Gayan district, 
but he and his surviving relatives have had to fend for themselves. Terrified 
as the earth still rumbles from aftershocks like one on Friday that claimed 
five more lives, he said his children in Gayan refuse to go indoors.

   The earthquake was the latest calamity to convulse Afghanistan, which has 
been reeling from a dire economic crisis since the Taliban took control of the 
country as the U.S. and its NATO allies were withdrawing their forces. Foreign 
aid -- a mainstay of Afghanistan's economy for decades -- stopped practically 
overnight.

   World governments piled on sanctions, halted bank transfers and paralyzed 
trade, refusing to recognize the Taliban government. The Biden administration 
cut off the Taliban's access to $7 billion in foreign currency reserves held in 
the United States.

   As he toured the disaster site, Acting Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan 
Muttaqi urged the White House to release the funds "at a time when Afghanistan 
is in the grips of earthquakes and floods" and to lift banking restrictions so 
charities can more easily provide aid.

   Western donors have withheld longer-term assistance as they demand the 
Taliban allow a more inclusive rule and respect human rights. The former 
insurgents have resisted the pressure, imposing restrictions on the freedoms of 
women and girls that recall their first time in power in the late 1990s.

   Now, around half the country's 39 million people are facing life-threatening 
levels of food insecurity because of poverty. Most civil servants, including 
doctors, nurses and teachers, have not been paid for months.

   U.N. agencies and other remaining organizations have scrambled to keep 
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, U.N. agencies face a $3 billion funding shortfall this year.

   Reeling from war and impoverished long before the Taliban takeover, the 
far-flung areas hit by last Wednesday's earthquake are particularly 
ill-equipped to cope.

   Some local businessmen have swung into action. The Afghanistan Chamber of 
Commerce and Investment said on Sunday it had raised over $1.5 million for 
Pakitka and Khost provinces.

   Still, for those whose homes have been obliterated, the help may not be 
enough.

   "We have nothing left," Gul said.

 
 
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