As Afghanistan Earthquake Death Toll Rises, US Sanctions Limit International Aid

According to local officials, more than 1,000 people were killed by a massive 5.9 magnitude earthquake that struck southeastern Afghanistan on Wednesday. However, the death toll is expected rise. The earthquake comes as the United Nations reports nearly half of Afghanistan’s population already faces acute hunger. Many more people have been injured and lost all their belongings, as well as their homes. “Many more will be dead, and we are now rushing with aid,” says Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. He stated that he agrees to the Taliban government’s assertion that U.S. sanctions have made it more difficult for aid agencies like his to provide vital resources to Afghans.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:Officials in southeastern Afghanistan claim that a powerful earthquake on Wednesday morning killed more than 1,000 people. Afghans described the moment the 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck their homes at Paktika province.

FATIMA: [translated]It was almost midnight when the earthquake struck. My children and I screamed. One of our rooms had been destroyed. Our neighbors screamed, and we saw everyone’s rooms.

FAISAL: [translated]The quake hit at midnight. It destroyed all the houses of our neighbors. There were many people who had been injured and died when we arrived. They took us to the hospital. I also saw many corpses.

AMY GOODMAN:The death toll from earthquakes is expected to rise. Thousands of people were injured and lost their homes and all their belongings in the earthquake.

The earthquake comes as the United Nations reports nearly half of Afghanistan’s population already faces acute hunger. The Taliban has called for more international aid, while saying sanctions have hampered the government’s ability to respond to the multiple crises facing the country. Norwegian Refugee Council reports that aid groups are currently on the ground in Afghanistan to provide emergency shelter and funds to the affected communities.

For more, we’re joined by Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. Now, he’s in Somalia, which we’re going to talk about in a minute.

Jan, please can you first talk about Afghanistan after the earthquake and what humanitarian work is being done.

JAN EGELAND:The situation in eastern Afghanistan is extremely dire, both in Khost as well as in Paktia. It’s like all of the plagues of the Bible falling down on these very poor people at the same time.

So, we are — have been operational in Afghanistan for decades. 1,400 humanitarian workers are currently on the ground. We did not leave these areas after the Taliban took control. So we immediately sent teams from Khost (the city).

And I just got some images from our field workers on ground of the devastation. It is — these are very poor houses. They live in very poor, mountainous areas with weak structures. The number of people who are killed will rise. The 1,000 you mentioned is far too small. Many more will die.

We are now in a rush to provide aid. We will provide shelter for those who have lost everything. And we’ll also try to have cash distributions to those who cannot afford anything at the moment.

AMY GOODMAN:What about your comment on Taliban that sanctions are hurting humanitarian efforts?

JAN EGELAND:No. Of course. I mean, if you’re in a country where we, the aid organizations, cannot even do normal bank transfers — the banking system is paralyzed. The regime that took control is under severe sanctions. It is much more difficult, much more costly to do aid work, but it’s not stopping us. We’re continuing to work.

We are aware that many people are angry that the Taliban prevent girls from obtaining secondary education. It will be a terrible insult to these girls if they starve and die in earthquakes due to our opposition to the education policies by Taliban.

We must help, naturally. The sanctions should provide a more blanket exemption to humanitarian work. We must be able make normal financial transactions to our aid workers on ground.