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Funds frozen in US: Quake-hit Afghanistan faces disease outbreak

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
In this picture taken on June 24, 2022, an Afghan man stands near a cemetery where more than 10 members of a family were buried together who were killed after an earthquake in Gayan district, Paktika province. (Photo by AFP)

Afghan health officials say thousands affected by a deadly earthquake in eastern Afghanistan are in need of clean water and food and are at risk of disease.

The appeal on Sunday came days after the UN humanitarian office (OCHA) warned of a cholera outbreak in the region.

"The people are extremely needy for food and clean water," Afghanistan's health ministry spokesperson Sharafat Zaman told said.

He said officials had managed medicines for now but handling those who had lost their homes would be a challenge. 

"We ask the international community, humanitarian organizations to help us for food and medicine, the survivor might catch diseases because they don’t have proper houses and shelters for living," he said.

At least 1,150 people were killed, 2,000 injured and 10,000 homes destroyed in Wednesday's earthquake.

The disaster is a major test for Taliban rulers amid Western sanctions on Afghan government bodies and banks, cutting off direct assistance which had led to a humanitarian crisis even before the earthquake.

Afghanistan's Taliban administration called for a rolling back of sanctions and lifting a freeze on billions of dollars in central bank assets stashed in Western financial institutions. 

Following the Taliban takeover in August, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order, seizing 7 billion US dollars out of more than $9 billion frozen Afghan assets, to pay compensation to 9/11 victims.

China’s permanent representative to the United Nations urged the Biden administration to immediately return Afghanistan's frozen assets.

“The Afghan people need every bit of these resources. That’s why it’s unjustified to freeze Afghanistan’s foreign assets,” Zhang Jun told a UN Security Council session.

He said the UN chief, human rights experts and humanitarian agencies were all univocal in their demand to return the assets without any conditions as soon as possible.

"At a time when the Afghan people are most in need of resources, it is unreasonable, unjustifiable, and unacceptable to freeze their sizable overseas assets. The United States should respond to the appeals of the (UN) secretary-general, human rights experts, humanitarian agencies, and other parties by unconditionally returning Afghanistan's overseas assets as soon as possible," he said.

Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, tweeted Friday, “Saw US officials claim that the US ‘stands with the people of Afghanistan’. Then why not give the $7 billion back to the Afghans?”

China has described the US decision to seize the Afghan nation's money as “robbery.”

The Asian country, itself, aims to provide $7.5 million assistance to Afghanistan in humanitarian aid.

On Saturday, the Taliban renewed their call on the US to unfreeze the nation's foreign funds and lift financial sanctions to help the war-torn country deal with its deadliest earthquake in more than two decades.

"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," Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said in Kabul.

According to estimates by the EU commissioner for crisis management, around 270,000 people living in and around the earthquake zone need aid.

The Taliban rulers in Afghanistan have been faced with empty coffers since their return to power last year.

In the absence of Western aid, countries in the neighborhood have been extending relief assistance to support the people of Afghanistan badly affected by the earthquake.

Iran, Pakistan, India, as well as other countries, have sent relief batches that reached Kabul for distribution in the wake of the devastating earthquake.

On Friday, an EU parliament member criticized the West over its massive financial support for Ukraine while failing to provide humanitarian aid to the quake-hit Afghanistan.

“The Americans spent 300 million a day destroying the place and now we are starving them," Mick Wallace said.

"The World Food Program could only gather a third of the money that they need to feed the millions they are trying to feed. And neither the European Union nor the Americans are prepared to give them as much money as they want… We can find all the money on the planet to pour arms into Ukraine but we can’t feed the Afghans whose lives we destroyed for 20 years,” he added.

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