Discriminatory Management of Herat Earthquake Crisis: An Overview of the Overall Situation in Afghanistan

It has been 23 days since the first earthquake struck the Zinda-Jan district of Herat Province. From October 7th onwards, Herat and its surrounding areas have experienced multiple tremors. Just last night, another earthquake rocked the province and its vicinity. Unfortunately, there is limited information available regarding these seismic events. What we do know indicates a looming disaster. Regrettably, the natural catastrophe brought about by the earthquake has been exacerbated by the management of the Taliban. Consequently, the people of Herat, already burdened with mourning the victims, coping with the destruction of their homes, and enduring the anguish of this disaster, must also contend with the presence of the Taliban and their policies.

We find ourselves in the era of information explosion, where various media outlets and potent social networks incessantly relay information to the public. Events from around the world multiply at breakneck speed. However, the Herat earthquake disaster has failed to make international headlines, with most governments paying scant attention. Many nations have not even provided the simplest of reactions. Consequently, the people of Afghanistan, especially in Herat, lack accurate information about the extent and gravity of this calamity. This information void and obscurity result from the policies of the Taliban group.

Following the initial earthquake in the Zinda-Jan district of Herat and several other districts within the province, the Taliban assumed control of the dissemination of information concerning the disaster. Free media reporters were barred from accessing the affected areas, and health officials and aid organizations were prohibited from providing statistics and information about the crisis. Remarkably, despite nearly a month passing since that fateful day, the Taliban have failed to furnish accurate statistics regarding the number of casualties. During this time, each Taliban official presented their statistics, which often contradicted those of their fellow officials. Just as the Taliban have deliberately isolated Afghanistan from journalists and researchers, rendering it an information black hole for over two years, Herat, as an integral part of Afghanistan, has suffered more acutely from this policy in the aftermath of the earthquake.

The tragedy in Herat and its ensuing events, shaped by the actions of the Taliban, have created a catastrophic situation for the entire country. Herat serves as a microcosm of Afghanistan. Just as the events and tragedies in Herat were concealed from the viewfinders and lenses of the global media, similar events throughout the nation are veiled similarly. The management of information and the absence of accurate statistics in Herat is symbolic of the overall situation in the country.

In Herat, despite nearly a month passing, the Taliban are still in the dark about the precise number of fatalities, injuries, and missing persons in the aftermath of the earthquake. The Taliban, who blocked others from reporting the facts, have failed to compile statistics regarding the number of villages devastated by these tremors. In an interview with BBC Farsi, Ahmadullah Muttaqi, the Taliban’s head of information and culture for Herat, who also serves as the spokesperson for the local government, remained mum on the issue. The Taliban offer nothing more than general information already known to the public. When questioned about the number of victims, Muttaqi admitted that there is no precise figure available. Inquiries about the aid process and allegations of discrimination in the distribution thereof were met with his professed ignorance. In essence, the person responsible for providing information appeared as uninformed as the average member of society. The Taliban have imposed restrictions on both the media and relief organizations. Media outlets lack the freedom to disseminate information, and aid agencies cannot collect data or provide assistance independently. Instead, they are compelled to funnel all their resources through the Taliban commission, enabling the Taliban to exert control over their use.

The aftermath of the Herat earthquake has led to a surge in solidarity among the people of Afghanistan, prompting citizens from various regions to extend their support to their fellow countrymen. Donations were collected in numerous provinces to assist the earthquake victims and alleviate their immediate challenges. However, the Taliban obstructed this process, seizing control of the aid and hindering its distribution to those in need.

Moreover, the Taliban, infamous for their discriminatory practices, exhibited ethnic biases in handling the disaster. The commission established to oversee aid distribution to earthquake victims is headed by a non-professional Taliban Mullah, and all its members belong to the Taliban group. These individuals lack expertise in crisis management and display discriminatory behavior. Multiple reports indicate that the Taliban commandeered public aid and relief organizations, distributing assistance to their relatives and tribes, even those unaffected by the earthquake. Meanwhile, individuals in dire need, lacking any ethnic or intellectual affiliation with the Taliban, were denied aid. A victim voiced their frustration to the media, stating, “Regrettably, the Taliban are manipulating aid distribution in many Herat villages. They are favoring their associates and relatives, regardless of whether they suffered any harm. They sent intelligence officers to villages, intimidating the people, and colluding with local village leaders.” This discriminatory conduct is a daily reality throughout Afghanistan, overshadowing rational decisions, from humanitarian aid distribution to dispute resolution. Discrimination plagues every facet of life and has engulfed the entire nation.

The situation worsens as aid is stockpiled in one village while neighboring villages are left deprived. Nearly a month after the earthquake, there is still no data on the extent of destruction and the number of victims. Information is deliberately kept from the public. The Taliban not only deny women access to earthquake-affected areas but also prohibit men from providing aid to wounded or deceased women. Corruption compounds the issue, exacerbating the discrimination in aid distribution. The Taliban have seized control of every aspect, yet they cannot effectively manage these affairs, reducing the earthquake-stricken areas of Herat to a microcosm of Afghanistan. This troubled region mirrors the overall situation in the country. Similar incidents occur daily nationwide, for which the Taliban group bears responsibility. While the crisis in Herat runs deeper, no part of Afghanistan remains untouched by a comparable situation, albeit with varying degrees of severity.

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