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5 Jul 2022 4:21
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  •   Home > News > International

    What do we know about the Afghanistan earthquake and why is the region so vulnerable?

    More than 1,000 people have been killed after a powerful 6.1-magnitude earthquake struck in Afghanistan yesterday. Here's what we know about the disaster, the region's vulnerability and the Taliban's response.

    More than 1,000 people have been killed after a powerful 6.1-magnitude earthquake struck a town in Afghanistan yesterday.

    It was the deadliest quake in the country since 2002.

    The Taliban's supreme leader has appealed for international aid, but what help is on the way?

    What do we know about where it hit?

    The earthquake struck in the Paktika province, about 44 kilometres from the south-eastern city of Khost, near the border with Pakistan, the US Geological Survey said.

    Experts put its depth at just 10 kilometres. Shallow earthquakes tend to cause more damage.

    Here's what else we know about the disaster that's struck the rural, mountainous region: 

    • In addition to the more than 1,000 people who have been killed, there are reports of another 1,500 people injured
    • At least 2,000 homes have been destroyed. According to the UN representative of Afghanistan, an average household has seven or eight people living in it
    • Homes are typically constructed of stone and mud-brick
    • Recent rain in the area has caused landslides and made access more difficult
    • The province where the quake struck had a population of approximately 775,000 in 2020, according to the European Agency for Asylum
    • The quake was felt 500 kilometres away by 119 million people across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, according to the European seismological agency

    What has been the experience on the ground?

    Resident Shamira is in hospital with her one-year-old grandson, who is being treated after being struck on the head by a piece of debris. She is among the thousands of people who have lost their homes and need help.

    "Three of our relatives were trapped under the rubble. There's nothing left of our house. If someone buys a tent, we will find a place to put it and live there — we have no choice."

    Resident Gul Faraz received treatment for injuries with his wife and children at a hospital in Paktika. He said some family members had been killed.

    "We were all sleeping at home... and the room fell over us.

    "All the houses in our area were destroyed, not one, but the entire region has been destroyed."

    Resident Firdaus Khan told the ABC that the only public hospital in the province had been overwhelmed by earthquake victims.

    "Most of the victims are women and children because they were caught asleep by the calamity … there is absolute shortage of resources, doctors and all other things needed.

    "People don't know what to do."

    Resident Dalil Khan said thousands of homes had been ruined.

    "Around 2,000 to 2,500 houses have been fully destroyed and many people were wounded. All the houses are destroyed and now we need tents and all other necessary items," Mr Khan said.

    A hospital worker in Paktika province said rescue efforts were ongoing.

    "Many people are still buried under the soil. The rescue teams of the Islamic Emirate have arrived and with the help of local people are trying to take out the dead and injured.

    Kabul-based tailor Ruh Ullah said he was traumatised and worried about family members in the region.

    "Ever since I have heard of the devastation back home, I am crying, the mobile phone connections are not properly working and no-one is telling me if my extended family members are alive or not."

    Medical aid director Stefano Sozza, Afghanistan country director for the Italian medical aid group Emergency, said the group has sent seven ambulances and staff to areas near the quake zone.

    "The fear is that the victims will increase further, also because many people could be trapped under collapsed buildings."

    Why is Afghanistan so vulnerable to earthquakes?

    This will be the seventh earthquake that has killed more than 100 people since 1991, and it's the deadliest in two decades.

    The country has a long history of earthquakes, many in the mountainous Hindu Kush region bordering Pakistan.

    Afghanistan is particularly vulnerable to earthquakes because it’s where the Eurasoan, Arabian and Indian tectonic plates meet.

    It’s also on the Alpide belt, which is an expanse of mountain ranges that is prone to earthquake activity.

    Death tolls have been worsened by the remote locations of many quakes and decades of war that have left infrastructure in dangerous conditions.

    Here are the most recent deadly earthquakes that have happened in Afghanistan:

    • 1997, Qayen — more than 1,500 killed in Iran and Afghanistan
    • 1998, Takhar — at least 2,300 people killed with some estimates putting the death toll as high as 4,000
    • 1998, Takhar — 4,700 killed in the same region just three months later
    • 2002, Hindu Kush twin quakes — 1,100 people killed
    • 2015, Hindu Kush —  399 people killed in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan and India.

    How has the Taliban responded?

    The disaster has posed a new test for Afghanistan's Taliban rulers and relief agencies already struggling with the country’s multiple humanitarian crises.

    The Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzadah, who almost never appears in public, has pleaded with the international community and humanitarian organisations “to help the Afghan people affected by this great tragedy and to spare no effort".

    Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN's deputy special representative to Afghanistan, said the Taliban hadn't formally requested that the UN mobilise international search-and-rescue teams or obtain equipment from neighbouring countries to supplement the few dozen ambulances and several helicopters sent in by Afghan authorities.

    Still, officials from multiple UN agencies said the Taliban were giving them full access to the area.

    Humanitarian agencies still operating in the country, including UNICEF, rushed supplies to the quake-stricken areas.

    How have other countries responded?

    Pakistan said it would send food, tents, blankets and other essentials and India has also come forward and said that it will help.

    Meanwhile, the US State Department said it wasn't aware of any request for American assistance from Afghanistan's Taliban government after the quake.

    The US expects the humanitarian response to the disaster to be a topic of conversation between Taliban and US officials in the coming days, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters.

    Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong has described the disaster as "heartbreaking", acknowledging the local Afghan community has lost many relatives and loved ones.

    Senator Wong says Australia will work with partner nations to respond to the humanitarian emergency.

    The Norwegian Refugee Council's country director in Afghanistan, Neil Turner, said the group was already assessing the damage in the Khost province, close to the epicentre. 

    "We need to make sure that the aid gets through effectively to the places that are needed," he said.


    © 2022 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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