On Monday, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake hit Afghanistan, sending tremors to cities across South Asia. The quake resulted in devastation and destruction emanating from the epicenter in northern Afghanistan, and reaching as far as Pakistan, Tajikistan and India. The devastation was felt most significantly in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and government officials from both countries declared emergencies and ordered military units to join the response.
Disaster officials report that over 340 people have died, with at least 245 casualties occurring in neighboring Pakistan. More than 7,000 homes in Afghanistan alone have been damaged or destroyed. Rescue efforts and attempts to gauge the damage and death toll have been severely hindered by aftershocks, landslides, power outages and telecommunications failures.
Security has also proven to be a problem, as the northern part of Afghanistan has long been affected by militant violence including most recently an intense Taliban offensive. Particularly in Afghanistan’s eastern and northeastern provinces, the earthquake adds another layer of hardship to families, many of whom are now left homeless with winter soon approaching.
Although the Taliban has issued a statement ordering their fighters to “lend their complete help to the victims and facilitate those giving charity to the needy,” concerns remain among the aid worker community, especially with Afghanistan’s status as the most dangerous country for aid workers. Only last month, an MSF hospital in the northern city of Kunduz was bombed by American warplanes while war casualties continue to rise as Afghan government forces battle to halt the Taliban’s expanding reach. Earlier this month, a United Nations employee was fatally shot in Kandahar Province by an unknown assailant.
Despite the remaining security concerns, the United Nations is mobilizing and coordinating a response to the disaster, while humanitarian agencies such as the Afghan Red Crescent Society continue to assert their neutrality in order to access and assist the most vulnerable in this conflict-torn and now disaster-affected region.