It has been four days since the initial earthquake struck the Zinda-Jan districts of Herat and the surrounding areas. The severity of the earthquake, coupled with substandard construction of buildings, has precipitated a significant crisis in the region, necessitating immediate and effective management. The foremost priority in crisis management is the rescue of individuals trapped beneath the debris and assisting the injured. After this, the proper handling and burial of the deceased become the second most critical task. Simultaneously, efforts must be directed toward addressing the needs of the survivors, encompassing shelter, sustenance, water, and medical care. The provision of these essential items calls for adequate financial resources and efficient management. However, reports emanating from Herat suggest that these crucial steps have not been executed adequately, with reports indicating that some individuals remain trapped under the rubble, and survivors are yet to receive assistance.
A fundamental prerequisite for effective crisis management is the availability of accurate statistics. Crisis management authorities must have access to precise data concerning the area affected by the incident, the number of casualties, and injuries. This information is indispensable for facilitating the delivery of life’s necessities to survivors and the timely burial of the deceased. Thus far, the Taliban has disseminated four different sets of statistics, and discrepancies among these figures have come to light. The statistics released by the Directorate of Natural Disasters in Herat are in direct contrast to the numbers reported by the Taliban Ministry of State for Natural Disasters and government hospitals under their control. These hospitals have been pressured to underreport the number of victims. Furthermore, the Taliban governor’s office in Herat has also released a conflicting set of statistics. The most recent figures available, released by the Taliban, indicate that 4,000 people have been killed or injured in this tragic event. However, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, during his visit to Herat, claimed that the number of fatalities exceeded 1,000, with over 2,000 individuals sustaining injuries. The exact number of houses demolished remains uncertain, with the Ministry of State for Disaster Management stating that 1,983 homes were destroyed, while Mullah Baradar estimated this number at 1,200 to 1,500. The precise number of devastated villages has yet to be ascertained, with figures from the Taliban varying between 15 and 20 villages. The Taliban has yet to establish the total population residing in these villages and the number of houses present. It has been reported that there are no survivors from certain villages who can provide this information. The conflicting statistics released by the Taliban underscore their inadequacy in managing the crisis effectively.
The swiftness of response is pivotal in crisis management, a factor that both the Taliban and aid organizations operating in Afghanistan have failed to exhibit in the aftermath of the Herat earthquake. The Taliban is conspicuously lacking in the capacity and capability to act promptly, and aid organizations are constrained by the limitations imposed by the Taliban. These organizations have reported numerous instances where the Taliban not only extract commissions from their projects but also coerce them into hiring relatives of their commanders. The recruitment of Taliban members into relief organizations, who possess expertise primarily in combat and violence, hampers the efficacy of these organizations during times of crisis. Another aspect of this issue pertains to the restrictions placed on women working within these organizations. The exclusion of women from the workforce in these organizations has rendered them unable to provide timely assistance to affected women.
Are the Taliban Exploiting the Herat Earthquake Crisis for Political Gain?
Not all the challenges faced in managing the Herat earthquake crisis stem solely from the limitations of the Taliban group. Even in situations where their involvement is unnecessary, members of this group obstruct aid workers. Imposing restrictions on aid organizations has significantly hindered their operations, and the undue interference of the Taliban in the process of collecting public aid has further impeded relief efforts. Following the Herat earthquakes, numerous teams were mobilized across the country to gather public aid for the victims. Relief packages have reached the affected areas in Herat from various regions multiple times. However, reports circulating on social media indicate that the Taliban have prohibited volunteer teams from raising public donations in several provinces. Acquiring permission to raise funds has become as challenging as establishing a nuclear plant. Taliban representatives in these provinces have demanded that aid be channeled through their group. Due to the prevailing mistrust between the Taliban and the people, coupled with the observation of this group extracting money from vulnerable individuals and diverting humanitarian aid, locals have refrained from contributing aid. This situation may hasten the demise of additional victims whose lives could have been saved through public assistance.
The refusal to accept donations reflects the Taliban’s desire for recognition. It is unlikely that the Taliban do not wish for aid to reach the victims ultimately; however, they strongly desire that aid collection and distribution occur under their auspices. In such a dire and catastrophic situation where bodies remain unattended, and some victims have yet to be rescued from beneath the rubble, the Taliban are also attempting to exploit the crisis for political gain.
Recently, the spokesperson for the Taliban Ministry of State for Disaster Management claimed that aid had been distributed to the victims of the Herat earthquake. However, some victims informed the media that they had not received any aid from the Taliban regime. Remarkably, the popular volunteer teams have demonstrated greater efficiency in providing health services, food, and clothing than the Taliban. These teams swiftly collected public aid and delivered it to the victims, a process that continues in Herat and other parts of the country.
Neglect of the Incident
Despite the high casualties and substantial economic losses, the Herat earthquake has received limited attention from the international community and global media. There are two primary reasons for this, both of which are linked to the Taliban’s control over Afghanistan. The most significant and concerning reason is the absence of a legitimate government in the country. In the absence of an active, legitimate government, there are no strong, political representatives to advocate for the nation and its people in other countries. Embassies, which could attract attention and assistance, are partially active and preoccupied with the ongoing crisis. The second reason is the severe suppression of freedom of speech and media within the country. The Taliban have detained journalists and stifled freedom of expression, effectively silencing the media and preventing them from providing real-time, widespread coverage of events. Journalists working inside Afghanistan now operate in secret, unable to venture into the field with cameras and press cards to report on the victims and the magnitude of the Herat earthquake crisis. Media outlets controlled by the Taliban can operate openly, but their reports are subject to extensive censorship and filtering. During this process, the news value of the content is diminished by illiterate individuals lacking expertise in the field of media. Consequently, the absence of a legitimate government with formal diplomatic relations and the suppression of freedom of expression are the main reasons for the world’s lack of attention to the Herat earthquake disaster. Additionally, the simultaneous occurrence of the conflict between Hamas and Israel has contributed to the world’s indifference and lack of attention, albeit to a lesser extent.