Shocked Afghan community members in Australia are calling for donations and government assistance to help those affected by the devastating earthquake in their homeland, which has so far claimed more than 1000 lives.
Adelaide-based volunteer Mansoor Hashimi believes “major relief efforts” are needed to assist those affected by the powerful earthquake which struck a remote border region of his homeland Afghanistan.
At least 1,000 people have died and 1,500 more were injured when the 6.1-magnitude quake struck the eastern region of Paktika, which is in the grips of a humanitarian crisis made worse since the Taliban takeover in August.
Officials said on Thursday that the toll is expected to rise as rescuers dig through collapsed dwellings.
A volunteer for more than a decade after arriving from Afghanistan as a student in 2007, Mr Hashimi says the impacts of the disaster are compounded by social unrest in the country.
“People of Afghanistan were already facing a food crisis. After the fall of the government and the Taliban taking control, thousands of people lost their jobs, the businesses have been closed, the NGOs stopped operating, the export and imports are impacted, and unemployment skyrocketed,” he says.
“Now that the earthquake hit the Paktika province, it has also taken their lives, houses, and stock. This will make it very difficult for them to survive, and it will mean if urgent relief is not provided, the number of casualties will sharply increase not just from the direct impact of the earthquake but due to lack of food and necessities.”
Calling on Australians to dig deep, and personally working with the Federation of Afghan Communities in South Australia and the Afghan Association of South Australia, Mr Hashimi says volunteers have taken “urgent action” as soon as news of the quake reached them.
"To play our part, and save as many lives as we can, we decided to do something urgently to raise some funds and send it to those people who are impacted. We will also be trying everything to raise as many funds as we can through different programs.
“The fund will go directly to the people. The majority of funds will go towards buying food to help them with the food crisis they are facing.
“There are hundreds of people who have become homeless due to losing their houses in this earthquake, buying tents or shelters would be another option depending upon the number of funds raised."
Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong on Wednesday said the federal government would work with partners to respond to the crisis unfolding.
Mr Hashimi says the Australian government should play a “major part” in responding to the disaster, believing that it is warranted due to the Defence Force withdrawal from Afghanistan in early 2021 before the Taliban's takeover.
“A country that was left alone when they really needed our help, is now hit with a natural disaster. A country with millions living in poverty, a high unemployment rate, no accountable government, and no support, now faces another disaster.
“I am requesting Afghans around Australia to use every channel you have, do everything you can, organise whatever events you can to raise funds."
Mohammad Nadir Azami, the president of the Afghan Community Association of New South Wales, says his organisation's Kabul-based office deployed representatives to the region but were unable to reach the quake zone due to road closures.
The group formulated a two-phase plan to assist, including initial assistance on the ground before a delegation from Australia travels to the region to offer assistance to rebuild.
“We already contacted our Afghans in other states. Like I was talking to one of the delegations in Perth, Western Australia about it, and they are ready to help us as well together.
“If they can use us as a first-line service in Afghanistan, we would be more than happy to help them, to assist them, and whatever we can do, to get the government's help to people who are affected in the area.”
Afghanistan's Ambassador to Australia Wahidullah Waissi says that due to the "brain drain" after the Afghan regime fell to the Taliban, the structure of governance and outreach to remote areas has broken down.
He adds that climate change is also playing a factor.
"This earthquake is paralleled with the half metre of snow in Central Afghanistan on the first day of summer and flash flooding in the northern part of the country," he says.
"Climate change is hitting hard in the country and it affects the whole population when it combines with the conflict [and the] lack of governance, rule of law and proper economic cycle."
Canberra-based Mr Waissi says the international community has established a relief mechanism for the Afghan people, through the United Nations agencies, international NGOs and local NGOs that have no political link with the Taliban.
"The Australian government has already provided their assistance through a high-level pledging conference in March 2022. Their fund has been channelled through UNHCR and UNOCHA and allocated for the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people."