Another 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck western Afghanistan, less than a week after several other earthquakes shook the region, The Associated Press reports. The initial earthquakes on October 7 flattened entire villages near the city of Heart. UN officials reported that more than 90 percent of the people killed were women and children. According to NPR, the epicenter of destruction was the Zenda Jan district, where the majority of casualties and damage occurred. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) says this disaster came after three other 6.3 magnitude earthquakes in previous days. In a statement reported by ABC News, the USGS explained that “One M6.3 occurred on Oct. 11 and two others occurred about 30 minutes apart on October 7.”The British Red Cross has reported 2,445 people dead and 9,420 people injured across eleven villages of the Zinda Jan district.
Heart is the third-largest city in Afghanistan, with a population of over 500,000. Approximately 1.8 million people were in areas that experienced high intensity impact due to the earthquake. The initial earthquake, numerous aftershocks and a third 6.3 magnitude quake on October 11 destroyed hundreds of mud-brick homes, schools, health clinics and other village facilities. Volunteers who are helping to search the rubble and dig mass graves are outnumbering the residents in many areas, says NPR. According to Al Jazeera, many had to dig up survivors and bodies with nothing but their bare hands.
This natural disaster amplifies the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. The World Food Programme (WFP) called the earthquake “a disaster on top of a disaster,” urging international organizations to provide humanitarian aid to the already-impoverished region, Reuters reports. Philippe Kropf, head of communications at the WFP Afghanistan, has stated that “50 million people…do not know where their next meal will come from, and the World Food Program is only able to support 3 million people due to a massive funding shortfall.” Afghanistan’s healthcare system, reliant almost entirely on foreign aid, has endured massive cuts in aid since the Taliban reinstated their hold over the Afghan government in 2021. Nearly all international assistance, which had formed the backbone of the economy, was halted. Afghans have been the victims of decades of war and destruction in their nation, since the Afghan-Soviet War in 1979-1989 to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 after the September 11 attacks, and the Taliban’s victory in 2021 after the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
UN News reports that the earthquakes add to the immense hardship Afghans have endured for decades, among them high levels of food insecurity, five years of drought or drought-like conditions, and a recent economic downturn that has destroyed livelihoods and jobs. Daniel Peter Endres, the acting UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan, described the situation as “a race against time.” Endres stated that aid organizations aim to deliver assistance to the vulnerable communities before the onset of winter. According to Reuters, the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies reduced the budget for Afghanistan’s 2023 aid plan from $4.6 billion to $3.2 billion due to the Taliban administration restrictions on female aid workers. Al Jazeera reports that Taliban authorities are struggling to provide assistance for civilians amid the exacerbated humanitarian crisis and weak relations with international aid organizations.
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