By XU WEIWEI in Hong Kong and WANG XIAODONG in Beijing | China Daily | Updated: 2022-06-29 09:38
Earthquake adds pressure on livelihoods as US resists calls for asset return
Kabul truck driver Ahmad Siar has been out of work for months, struggling to feed his family in the face of soaring food prices.
“I am still thinking about how to provide for my family of six children,” he recently told representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan. “Before, my family could afford to eat a good meal at least once a week, but now we barely manage to eat a good meal once a month.”
He added: “It’s not just about me, but about all Afghans.
Siar’s point is reinforced by figures which show that more than 7,000 of the country’s most vulnerable families, or 56,000 people, have been assisted by the ICRC through multipurpose cash grants in the first half of the year. This year. But hundreds of thousands of other families remain in need.
Compounding these problems, one of the worst earthquakes of a decade hit southeastern Afghanistan on June 22, killing more than 1,000 people and injuring nearly 2,000. Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed in the affected area.
China was quick to react. Two Y-20 transport planes 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 gratitude at the handover ceremony, the Afghan side said the supplies are what Afghanistan needs most right now, according to a statement released by the Chinese Embassy in Afghanistan.
The Afghan side also said it would distribute the supplies to areas that were badly hit by the earthquake.
On Saturday, the Chinese government announced it would provide emergency humanitarian aid worth 50 million yuan ($7.45 million) to Afghanistan for earthquake recovery efforts.
While thanking China for its assistance, 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 they had seized abroad.
The United States has been widely criticized for failing to return most of the $9.5 billion in frozen Afghan central bank assets held abroad. In August last year, the United States and other Western countries suspended most non-humanitarian funding that made up more than 70% of public spending in the war-torn country.
“In these difficult times, we call on the United States to release frozen assets from Afghanistan and lift sanctions on Afghan banks so that aid agencies can easily provide assistance to Afghanistan,” said Amir Khan Muttaqi, Acting Foreign Minister of the Afghan Interim Government. media in Kabul on June 25.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that day in Washington that the United States was working to answer complicated questions about the use of frozen funds to ensure that they benefit the Afghan people and not the Taliban.
Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Center for Security Research and Studies in Pakistan, told China Daily: “It is indeed regrettable that Afghanistan does not have 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, Taliban Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi called on the world to “give Afghans their most basic right, which is their right to life, and c is by lifting the sanctions and unlocking our assets and also providing assistance.”
Unfreezing of assets requested
Salman Bashir, Pakistan’s former ambassador to China, said he hopes “the United States will reconsider and release Afghan funds, especially to enable earthquake relief.”
“A humanitarian disaster deserves a humane and generous response,” he said.
To compound the impact of this dire situation, the country has been hit by one of the worst droughts in recent years, drastically reducing food crops and water supplies in many areas. “We have also helped around 11,000 drought-affected farming households to resume farming,” the ICRC said in a statement. “Many of them were forced to stop farming for a while as they had to flee their homes due to the violence.”
Serving Afghanistan for more than 40 years, the ICRC launched a cash-for-work project in Gulbahar, providing short-term employment and income-generating opportunities to the most vulnerable people.
Still, many residents are worried. Haji Mirza, a trader in Kabul for more than 25 years, has experienced lean times, compounded by rising costs. “More and more customers are asking me to give them items on credit,” he said.
He says he doesn’t know how long his business can last and he sees no way out of his troubles.
Wang Qingyun and Xinhua contributed to this story.