Taliban calls off search for Afghanistan earthquake survivors and resists UN help

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Afghans receive humanitarian aid after powerful earthquake hit eastern Afghanistan before dawn on 22 June, in Paktika - Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Afghans receive humanitarian aid after powerful earthquake hit eastern Afghanistan before dawn on 22 June, in Paktika - Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Afghanistan's Taliban authorities are resisting efforts by the United Nations to help get humanitarian funding into the country and insisting they direct where aid goes.

The interference in how aid has been delivered in recent months has raised fears the former insurgents will also now meddle in relief efforts for this week's deadly earthquake.

Taliban officials on Friday said they were calling off the search for survivors, with the death toll at more than 1,000 and some 10,000 homes destroyed or damaged.

“The search operation has finished, 1,000 are dead and the injured are around 2,000, both serious and superficial injuries,” Mohammad Nassim Haqqani, a spokesperson for the disaster ministry, told Reuters.

The 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck Khost province around 100 miles southeast of the capital, Kabul. Villages in the mountainous areas of Khost and Paktika were badly affected as houses fell in, or were demolished by landslides.

The UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told the Security Council on Thursday that Taliban officials had increased interference in how aid agencies delivered relief in recent months. They insisted on directing aid themselves, and requiring more bureacracy, leading to delays and hold-ups.

“National and local authorities are increasingly seeking to play a role in the selection of beneficiaries and channeling assistance to people on their own priority lists, citing an almost universal level of need,” he said.

“We are also seeing more demands by the Taliban for data and information with regards to budget and staffing contracts,” he said, adding that aid groups "face continued difficulties as they try to hire Afghan women in certain functions.

The Taliban have also resisted a proposal to swap millions of aid dollars for Afghan currency in a plan to stem aid and economic crises and bypass Taliban leaders who are under sanctions.

“We have seen limited progress because of resistance by the de-facto authorities. This is an issue that is not going to fix itself,” said Griffiths, adding that until Afghanistan's formal banking system could operate properly again, the United Nations needed to get Humanitarian Exchange Facility up and running.

Afghans receive humanitarian aid after powerful earthquake hit eastern Afghanistan before dawn on 22 June, in Paktika, Afghanistan - Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Afghans receive humanitarian aid after powerful earthquake hit eastern Afghanistan before dawn on 22 June, in Paktika, Afghanistan - Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Mireh, 30, who lost three of her family members in the earthquake, is treated for injuries at a hospital in Sharana - Ali Khara/REUTERS
Mireh, 30, who lost three of her family members in the earthquake, is treated for injuries at a hospital in Sharana - Ali Khara/REUTERS

He said about half the aid groups recently surveyed by the United Nations reported difficulty transferring funds into Afghanistan, down from 87per cent in October, adding: “The direction of travel is positive, but the figure remains alarming.”

Griffiths said two-thirds of the aid groups cited a lack of available cash in Afghanistan as impeding their programs.

The Taliban who took power in August 2021 continued to call for international help to reach the victims and said they were short of medicines and supplies. The United Nations has said it is fully mobilised to help, but poor roads and bad weather have hampered relief efforts.

“The health ministry does not have enough drugs, we need medical aid and other necessities because it's a big disaster,” Mr Haqqani said.

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