Ex-prosecutor and foreign policy neophyte wins South Korea presidency
An earthquake has devastated the province of Paktika, eastern Afghanistan [Bakhtar News Agency/AP]
A powerful earthquake struck a rural, mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan early on Wednesday, killing 1,000 people and injuring 1,500 more, according to a state-run news agency. Officials warned that the already grim toll would likely rise as rescuers dig through collapsed dwellings.
The 5.9 magnitude quake struck hardest in the rugged terrain of the east, where people already live hardscrabble lives in a country in the grip of a humanitarian disaster made worse by the Taliban takeover in August.
Information remained scarce but quakes of that strength can cause severe damage in an area where homes and other buildings are poorly constructed and landslides are common. Experts put the depth at just 10 kilometres (6 miles) – another factor that could increase the impact.
The death toll given by Afghanistan’s state-run Bakhtar News Agency was equal to that of a quake in 2002 in northern Afghanistan that struck immediately after the US-led invasion overthrew the Taliban’s earlier government.
Footage from Paktika province near the Pakistan border showed men carrying people in blankets to waiting helicopters. Others were treated on the ground. Some images showed residents picking through clay bricks and other rubble from destroyed stone houses, some of whose roofs or walls had caved in.
“The death toll has reached 1,000 and the number is rising. People are digging grave after grave,” said the head of the information and culture department of Paktika province, Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, in a message to the press.
The quake struck about 44 kilometres (27 miles) from the city of Khost, near the Pakistani border, at a depth of 51 kilometres, the US Geological Survey said. The European Mediterranean Seismological Centre said shaking was felt by about 119 million people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.
The quake struck about 44 kilometres from the city of Khost, near the Pakistani border, at a depth of 51 kilometres.
In Kabul, Afghan Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund convened an emergency meeting at the presidential palace to coordinate the relief effort, and Bilal Karimi, a deputy spokesman for the Taliban government, wrote on Twitter to urge aid agencies to send teams to the area.
The “response is on its way”, the UN resident coordinator in Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, wrote on Twitter.
The disaster comes as Afghanistan has been enduring a severe economic crisis since the Taliban took over in August as US-led international forces withdrew after two decades of war. In response to the Taliban takeover, many governments have imposed sanctions on Afghanistan’s banking sector and cut billions of dollars worth of development aid.
Mountainous Afghanistan and the larger region of South Asia, where the Indian tectonic plate collides with the Eurasian plate to the north, has long been vulnerable to devastating earthquakes.
In most places in the world, an earthquake of this magnitude wouldn’t inflict such extensive devastation, said Robert Sanders, a seismologist with the US Geological Survey. But a quake’s death toll more often comes down to geography, building quality and population density.
“Because of the mountainous area, there are rockslides and landslides that we won’t know about until later reporting. Older buildings are likely to crumble and fail,” he said. “Due to how condensed the area is in that part of the world, we’ve seen in the past similar earthquakes deal significant damage.”
A major earthquake in 2015 that struck the country’s northeast killed over 200 people in Afghanistan and neighbouring northern Pakistan. A 6.1 magnitude quake in 2002 killed about 1,000 people in northern Afghanistan. And in 1998, a 6.1 magnitude quake and subsequent tremors in northeast Afghanistan northeast killed at least 4,500 people.
My heart goes out to the people of Afghanistan following the devastating earthquake which has claimed hundreds of lives.
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) June 22, 2022
‼️ Hundreds of people were killed following a devastating earthquake in Paktika, #Afghanistan.
Many families are now in need of urgent support after their homes were destroyed.
IOM’s teams are on the ground with members of the community to assess damages, & help those affected. pic.twitter.com/r2HK6kpetT
— IOM – UN Migration 🇺🇳 (@UNmigration) June 22, 2022