Australia pledges $1 million in aid for quake-hit Afghanistan


The federal government has announced $1 million in additional emergency relief for Afghanistan, after the country was hit by an earthquake that killed more than 1,000 people and left thousands homeless.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a statement that the funding was on top of $140 million Australia had pledged in assistance to Afghanistan since September 2021.

"The earthquake has caused extensive loss of life, homes and livelihoods, with the full effects still to be determined," Senator Wong said.

"This tragedy comes at a time when the humanitarian needs in Afghanistan are greater than ever."

The Taliban has called for international governments to roll back sanctions and lift a freeze on the Afghan central bank's assets in light of the devastation.

The magnitude-6.1 quake that hit the east of the country early on Wednesday destroyed or damaged 10,000 homes and injured about 2,000 people, straining the country's fragile health system.

Authorities have called off the search for survivors in the mountainous south-eastern region near the Pakistani border.

"The Islamic Emirate is asking the world to give the Afghans their most basic right, which is their right to life, and that is through lifting the sanctions and unfreezing our assets and also giving assistance," Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman, told Reuters.

While humanitarian aid continues to flow to Afghanistan, funds needed for longer-term development were halted when the Taliban seized control of the country in August 2021 as foreign forces withdrew.

The administration of the hardline Islamist group is not formally recognised by international governments.

Billions of US dollars in Afghan central bank reserves remain frozen overseas and sanctions hamper the banking sector as the West pushes for concessions on human rights.

Western governments are particularly concerned about the rights of women and girls to work and study under Taliban rule.

In March, the group stopped high schools for girls from opening.

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said the US government was working on "complicated questions about the use of these (frozen central bank) funds to ensure they benefit the people of Afghanistan and not the Taliban".

She added that the US Agency for International Development was providing assistance with humanitarian organisations.

Asked about the issue, Mr Balkhi said Afghans' right to life-saving funds should be the priority, adding that the international community handled concerns over human rights differently depending on the country involved.

"Is this rule universal? Because the United States just passed an anti-abortion law," Mr Balkhi said, referring to the Supreme Court's overturning of the landmark Roe v Wade ruling that recognised a woman's right to an abortion.

"Sixteen countries in the world have taken away the rights of religious minorities, especially Muslims … are they also facing sanctions because they are violating rights?" he asked.