Days after devastating earthquake, many Afghans still waiting for aid


Cash-strapped Taliban appeal to Washington to unfreeze billions of dollars in Afghanistan's currency reserves

When the ground heaved from an earthquake in Afghanistan earlier this week, Nahim Gul's stone-and-mud house collapsed on top of him.

He clawed through the rubble in the pre-dawn darkness, choking on dust as he searched for his father and two sisters. He doesn't know how many hours of digging passed before he caught a glimpse of their bodies under the ruins. They were dead.

Now, days after a 6.0-magnitude quake that devastated a remote southeast region of Afghanistan on Wednesday and killed at least 1,150 people by authorities' estimates, Gul sees destruction everywhere and help in short supply. His niece and nephew were also killed in the quake, crushed by the walls of their house.

The United Nations has put the death toll at 770 people but warned it could rise further. Either toll would make the quake Afghanistan's deadliest in two decades.

"I don't know what will happen to us or how we should restart our lives," Gul told The Associated Press on Sunday, his hands bruised and his shoulder injured. "We don't have any money to rebuild."

It's a fear shared among thousands in the impoverished villages where the fury of the quake has fallen most heavily — in Paktika and Khost provinces, along the jagged mountains that straddle the country's border with Pakistan.

Those who were barely scraping by have lost everything. Many have yet to be visited by aid groups and authorities, which are struggling to reach the afflicted area on rutted roads — some made impassable by landslides and damage.

Aware of its constraints, the cash-strapped Taliban have called for foreign assistance and on Saturday appealed to Washington to unfreeze billions of dollars in Afghanistan's currency reserves. The United Nations and an array of international aid groups and countries have mobilized to send help.

China pledged nearly $7.5 million US in emergency humanitarian aid on Saturday, joining nations including Iran, Pakistan, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in dispatching a planeload of tents, towels, beds and other badly needed supplies to the quake-hit area.

UN Deputy Special Representative Ramiz Alakbarov toured the hard-hit Paktika province on Saturday to assess the damage and distribute food, medicine and tents. UN helicopters and trucks laden with bread, flour, rice and blankets have trickled into the stricken areas.

"Yesterday's visit reaffirmed to me both the extreme suffering of people in Afghanistan and their tremendous resolve in the face of great adversity," Alakbarov said, appealing for the repair of damaged water pipes, roads and communication lines in the area.

Without support, he added, Afghans "will continue to endure unnecessary and unimaginable hardship."