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Israel attack overshadows Afghanistan’s earthquake tragedy on global stage: professor

By Hayatullah Amanat, CTVNews.ca writer

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    Toronto, Ontario (CTV Network) — As the world watches the events taking place in Israel and the Gaza Strip, some experts say another humanitarian crisis is being overshadowed by the international community.

While aid workers and people were still grappling to retrieve the dead bodies from Saturday’s devastating earthquake in Herat Province, Afghanistan, the province was shaken by yet another 6.3 magnitude earthquake on Wednesday morning.

The earthquake, along with its subsequent aftershocks, have tragically claimed the lives of over 2,000 people, and thousands more have been left injured.

Although earthquakes are not uncommon in Afghanistan, the recent ones stand out as the most destructive in the country’s recent history, flattening over 2,500 homes in 20 villages, particularly affecting the villages of Zindajan and Chahak.

“You could see there had never been a home in Zindajan at all; all homes were flattened,” Hadi Sabet, an independent photographer, said in an interview over the phone with CTVNews.ca after visiting the villages following the earthquakes.

“Taking pictures of destroyed homes and devastated families in Zindajan was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had in my entire photography career. I saw people using their bare hands to rescue their loved ones, with no one there to help them.”

Saturday’s devastating earthquake rocked Zindajan, a rural district some 40 kilometres from Herat city, claiming over 2,000 lives and leaving thousands more injured.

Following a series of ongoing aftershocks, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck Chahak village, about 28 km from Herat, the provincial capital, with a depth of 10 km as reported by the U.S. Geological Survey. One person was killed and 177 people were injured in this quake.

The quakes and subsequent aftershocks have had a severe impact on vulnerable communities, particularly those with poorly constructed homes.

Additionally, local healthcare facilities are struggling to cope with the overwhelming demand for treatment, as they are under-equipped to handle the large number of people in need of medical care.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has reported that more than 17,000 people in Afghanistan have been affected by the earthquakes, and they are currently facing the challenging aftermath of these devastating earthquakes.

In an interview with CTVNews.ca, University of Ottawa professor Nipa Banerjee raised concerns about the ability of Afghanistan’s de facto Taliban government to adequately assist the affected families in the aftermath of these earthquakes.

“Coordination of the delivery of assistance has not been coordinated well enough, but what I also know is that the Taliban doesn’t have the capacity, nor do they have the resources to provide assistance accordingly, which doesn’t surprise me,” Banerjee said.

The United Nations, along with several countries including China, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, have pledged aid for Afghanistan in the wake of the earthquakes. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator has also given the green light for a US$5 million emergency reserve allocation from the Afghanistan Humanitarian Fund (AHF).

In addition to these countries, various charitable organizations and individuals in Canada have been mobilizing aid to provide support for those affected by the devastating earthquakes in Afghanistan.

The Afghan Canadian Islamic Community has launched the Afghanistan earthquakes appeal, an initiative aimed at delivering immediate assistance to people impacted by the earthquakes.

“What’s happening in Herat is very unfortunate. There is limited support available for affected people, and the Taliban doesn’t have a system to coordinate and control the situation.” Afghan Canadian Islamic Community vice president Nemat Maysam said in an interview with CTVNews.ca.

“If the world doesn’t act immediately, there will be a full-scale human catastrophe,” he added.

Banerjee believes that the recent Hamas attack on Israel, much like the situation during the eruption of the Ukraine war, has diverted global attention from Afghanistan’s catastrophic situation.

“I saw that the earthquake occurred almost simultaneously with the Hamas attack, and they nearly overlapped each other. Before that, there was the Ukraine war, and this happened when donors were leaving Afghanistan. The situation in Afghanistan was, in a way, overshadowed by these events,” said Banerjee.

“What I understand is that the Ukrainian refugee support was much better coordinated than in Afghanistan, primarily due to the interest of Western donors. During that period, Afghanistan was almost forgotten, and the same thing happened with the Hamas and Israel situation,” added Banerjee.

Banerjee urges the international community to engage with the de facto government in Afghanistan to provide crucial assistance to vulnerable populations, with a particular emphasis on women and girls who have been banned from working and going to school.

“I’ve felt for a very long time that it is the duty of the donor community to engage in dialogue with the Taliban and work towards reconciliation. This could lead to improvements within the country and ensure that foreign aid reaches those in need. I’m not suggesting the issue of recognizing the Taliban’s de facto government,” Banerjee explained.

Reporting for this story was paid for through The Afghan Journalists in Residence Project funded by Meta.

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