Earthquake adds to strains to livelihood while the US resists calls to return assets
Kabul truck driver Ahmad Siar has been without work for months, struggling to feed his family amid soaring food prices.
“I am always thinking about how to support my family of six children,” he told representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan recently. “Earlier my family could afford to eat a good meal at least once a week, but now we barely manage a good meal once a month.”
He added: “This is not only about me but all Afghans.”
Siar’s point is reinforced by figures that show more than 7,000 of the country’s most vulnerable families－amounting to 56,000 people－were assisted by the ICRC through multipurpose cash grants in the first half of this year. But hundreds of thousands more families remain in severe need.
Exacerbating these problems, one of the worst earthquakes in a decade hit southeastern Afghanistan on June 22, claiming more than 1,000 lives and injuring almost 2,000 others. Tens of thousands of houses were destroyed in the affected area.
China was quick to respond. Two Y-20 transport aircraft carrying disaster relief supplies provided by the Chinese government, including tents, blankets and folding beds, arrived in Kabul on Tuesday, China Central Television reported.
This came after the Chinese government handed over the first batch of such supplies to Afghanistan at Kabul International Airport on Monday.
Expressing their appreciation during the handover ceremony, the Afghan side said the supplies are what Afghanistan needs most right now, according to a statement issued by the Chinese embassy in Afghanistan.
The Afghan side also said they will distribute the supplies to regions that have seriously suffered from the earthquake.
On Saturday, the Chinese government announced that it would provide emergency humanitarian assistance worth 50 million yuan ($7.45 million) to Afghanistan for earthquake recovery efforts.
While thanking China for its help, Ghulam Ghaws Naseri, the Taliban’s acting minister of state for disaster management and humanitarian affairs, said the Afghan people need the United States and its allies to release the Afghan assets that they had seized abroad.
The US has been widely criticized for not returning the bulk of the $9.5 billion in frozen assets of Afghanistan’s central bank held abroad. In August last year, the US and other Western countries suspended most of the non-humanitarian funding that constituted over 70 percent of the war-torn country’s government expenditures.
“In these testing times, we call on the United States to release Afghanistan’s frozen assets and lift sanctions on Afghan banks so that aid agencies could easily deliver assistance to Afghanistan,” Amir Khan Muttaqi, the acting foreign minister of the Afghan interim government told the media in Kabul on June 25.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre that day said in Washington that the US is working to address complicated questions about the use of the frozen funds to ensure they benefit the people of Afghanistan and not the Taliban.
Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Pakistan, told China Daily: “This is indeed unfortunate that Afghanistan has no access to its critical assets in times of urgent need largely because of the political limitations of the (Joe) Biden administration.”
Earlier, in an interview with Reuters, the Taliban’s foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi asked 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”.
Unfreezing assets urged
Salman Bashir, a former Pakistani ambassador to China, said he hopes that “the US will reconsider and unfreeze Afghanistan funds especially to enable assistance to the victims of earthquake affectees”.
“Humanitarian catastrophe warrants a humane and generous response,” he said.
Compounding the impact of this dire situation, the country has been hit by one of the worst droughts in recent years, significantly reducing food crops and water supplies in many parts. “We also helped around 11,000 drought-affected farmers’ households to resume farming activities,” the ICRC said in a statement. “Many of them were forced to stop farming for some time as they had to flee their homes because of violence.”
Serving Afghanistan for more than 40 years, the ICRC has launched a cash-for-work project in Gulbahar, providing short-term employment and income-generating opportunities for the most vulnerable people.
Still, many locals are worried. Haji Mirza, a shopkeeper in Kabul for more than 25 years, has been experiencing lean times, worsened by rising costs. “More and more customers have been asking me to give them items on credit,” he said.
He said he does not know how long his business can last and he sees no way out of his troubles.
Wang Qingyun and Xinhua contributed to this story.