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Herat earthquake response exposes Taliban’s inability

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KABUL – A series of earthquakes has left western Herat province reeling, underscoring the inability of the Taliban government in responding to natural disasters. Reports suggest that approximately 2,400 people have lost their lives in these devastating earthquakes, according to figures provided by the Taliban government. However, the United Nations estimates the death toll to be around 1,384, highlighting the difficulty in obtaining accurate information in the aftermath of the disaster.

These seismic events have not only claimed countless lives but also obliterated entire villages, adding to the suffering of a population already grappling with extreme poverty and harsh living conditions. Mahmud, an Afghan resident who lost nine family members in the earthquake, shared his heart-wrenching experience, illustrating the personal tragedies that have unfolded in the wake of this natural disaster.

The earthquakes struck the most impoverished regions of western Afghanistan, areas that had already endured a protracted, two-decade-long conflict until the Taliban assumed control in August 2021. While the Taliban’s victory ostensibly brought an end to the war in many parts of the country, it came at the cost of international sanctions on the group, the withdrawal of most aid organizations, and a halt in financial support linked to the presence of international troops. These challenges have exacerbated the plight of Afghan citizens, particularly women who now face limited access to education and employment.

The United Nations has reported that over 43,000 people have been directly affected by the 6.3-magnitude earthquakes that struck Herat province on October 7. The UN is urgently appealing for $93.6 million to support earthquake response efforts, but complications arise due to US-led sanctions on the Taliban, which aim to prevent funds from reaching the hands of the fundamentalist rulers.

The Taliban has emphasized its role in coordinating aid to those affected by the earthquake, setting up a commission to oversee this task. However, the efficiency of their efforts is under scrutiny, with some activists and volunteers in the affected areas disputing the Taliban’s claim that their members were on the scene one hour after the earthquake. According to these individuals, the lack of information in the initial hours hampered rescue operations, potentially leading to the loss of lives.

For most of its existence, the Taliban operated as an insurgent group without a mandate to provide assistance to the Afghan population. The rapid withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan and the subsequent collapse of the government forced the Taliban to assume responsibility for a nation already scarred by decades of war and poverty. Acknowledging their limitations, the Taliban has called for international support to address the disaster’s aftermath.

While some countries have pledged aid, questions remain about how the Taliban will distribute these resources to those in dire need. As the Taliban grapples with this challenge, Afghans both inside and outside the country have initiated efforts to provide assistance, exemplifying resilience and solidarity in the face of adversity.

More than 90% of the earthquake’s victims are women and children, a group that has already suffered disproportionately under Taliban rule. Women and girls have been barred from working or attending school, and the earthquake occurred when men were typically outside, leaving women and children at home. While Taliban restrictions may not have directly caused the high number of casualties, it highlights the ongoing struggles faced by women in Afghanistan.

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