By GLENN GAMBOA, AP Business Writer
Obtaining donations for the victims of the Afghanistan earthquake will be much more difficult compared to other disasters due to sanctions against the country’s Taliban government and its troubled relationship with Western nations, experts say.
International groups that maintained operations in the country after its government collapsed last year have rushed to eastern Afghanistan to coordinate aid in the region. The country’s state news agency reported Wednesday’s 6.1-magnitude quake killed at least 1,000 people and injured 1,500 others.
The humanitarian response, which typically emerges within the first 72 hours after an earthquake, has lagged behind in both size and speed due to a lack of pre-positioned supplies and the level of hunger and poverty that already exists in Afghanistan. Heavy rains and winds have also hampered rescue efforts.
“The challenge in Afghanistan is that it’s not just one thing,” said Patricia McIlreavy, president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. “It’s layer after layer of different issues that affect you and your response and can vary depending on the population you serve and the part of the country you work in.”
Many governments and philanthropic donors will not give funds directly to the Taliban-led government. Those sending aid into the country are hampered by a lack of regular flights to Kabul, the nation’s capital, as well as customs delays once the donations arrive there. The aid organization Direct Relief says its shipment of 1 million doses of donated prenatal vitamins is still being held up in customs weeks after it arrived in the country.
To demonstrate that aid to earthquake victims is welcome, Taliban Supreme Leader Haibatullah Akhundzadah, who hardly ever appears in public, called on the international community and humanitarian organizations to “help the Afghan people affected by this great tragedy and spare no effort.”
Daniel Hovey, director of emergency response for Direct Relief, said the request is a sign of important change.
“That is the first time the Taliban has asked for foreign help,” Hovey said. “Before that, they really wanted to keep a lot of Western NGOs out because of a lack of trust in Western ideologies. But now it should open some doors as there have been some complications with customs and other things for humanitarian aid.”
Because there are a limited number of humanitarian organizations still operating in Afghanistan, many nonprofits like Direct Relief are currently waiting to hear from organizations already on the ground about needs they can help address. Direct Relief says it has provided the World Health Organization’s Afghanistan office with emergency medicines and supplies needed for trauma care.
The WHO office in Afghanistan tweeted that its teams have already arrived at a hospital in the Afghan province of Paktika, near the epicenter of the earthquake, and that 10 tons of medical supplies are in transit to the region.
UNICEF says it has sent several mobile health and nutrition teams to provide first aid to the injured, adding that it will also provide tents, blankets, kitchen equipment, clothing and hygiene items. Other United Nations teams are also on site to assess the needs in Paktika.
The World Food Program reported that it sent at least 18 trucks with emergency supplies to the area near the epicenter of the earthquake. It plans to initially provide emergency food to 3,000 households.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a prepared statement that the United States is the largest donor of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and that its humanitarian partners are already delivering medical care and shelter supplies to the area. Sullivan said President Joe Biden has directed USAID and other federal government partners to evaluate other US response options.
For those looking to donate to help those affected by the Afghanistan earthquake, McIlreavy of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy said it would be important to focus on groups currently working in Afghanistan. She said those groups will likely reallocate their resources from other areas to Afghanistan and then rely on larger donations to replenish those resources.
“The organizations that left Afghanistan are unlikely to return,” he said. “You will be looking at those organizations that have already determined that they will work within the environment that exists, that they have the ability to navigate the Afghan government and the parameters of the crisis. Those same organizations will now be asked to do more.”
Encouraging donations to disaster victims in complex political situations can often be more difficult, McIlreavy said.
“The challenge for all of us is that if we truly care about humanity, we must be able to lessen the blame-the-victim mentality that we often have in complex emergencies,” he said. “Put people at the center of thought instead of our judgments about the government and the political situation.”
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