Afghanistan earthquake updates: Rescuers search for survivors

Credit…Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times

Since the Taliban seized power from a Western-backed government last year, Afghanistan has grappled with severe drought, widespread hunger, militant attacks and an economic crisis that has caused over a million people. to flee their homes.

At the same time, many Western governments that backed down from Taliban policies, especially on human rights, severed diplomatic relations. Many of the country’s assets abroad were frozen and international support collapsed.

The Taliban have struggled to attract more foreign aid for public services from Western donors since the announcement of edicts banning girls from attending secondary schools and restricting women’s rights. Under the previous Western-backed government, foreign aid funded 75% of the government’s budget, including health and education services – aid that was cut short after the Taliban seized power.

Afghans had struggled to emerge from decades of conflict: the 20-year war between the United States and its allies against militants, the civil war of the 1990s, the Soviet occupation before that. The cumulative toll of conflict, which dates back to the 1970s, has left more than half of the country’s estimated 40 million people in need of humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations. Three quarters of the population live in extreme poverty.

In January, the United Nations appealed for more than $5 billion for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan to avert what Martin Griffiths, the UN’s emergency aid coordinator, could become a “full-fledged humanitarian disaster”. Much of that appeal was for food after the economic collapse plunged half the population into life-threatening food insecurity.

“Part of the Afghan population is already in a humanitarian crisis,” UN resident coordinator in Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov said at a press conference on Wednesday. People were buying expired bread that would normally have been used to feed animals, he said, adding that the food crisis “adds to the burden”.

The hunger problem has been exacerbated by a drought, declared by the government a year ago, which has weakened the country’s already limited capacity to cope with the lack of rainfall. Drought and conflict can feed off each other, experts say, worsening the fight for scarce resources and increasing poverty, which itself causes greater instability.

For much of the past 20 years, the southeastern part of Afghanistan near the Pakistani border has been plagued by insurgent activity. Police and military stations were frequently overwhelmed by Taliban fighters, and the region received little benefit from the US military presence.

Although relative calm has prevailed since the Western-backed government fled the advancing Taliban, security remains a problem across the country.

Fighters stormed a Sikh temple in the capital Kabul on Saturday, killing several and injuring others as the Taliban claim they have eliminated the threat posed by the militant group ISIS. Since April, terrorist attacks have killed more than 100 people, mostly civilians among Afghanistan’s Shiite and Sufi minority groups.

And earthquakes are yet another risk. Many densely populated towns and cities in the country lie on or near multiple geological faults, some of which can produce earthquakes of up to magnitude 7.

In January, two earthquakes struck a remote mountainous region in western Afghanistan, killing at least 27 people and destroying hundreds of homes, officials said at the time.

In 2002, at least 1,500 people were killed when a series of earthquakes ranging in magnitude from 5 to 6 struck northern Afghanistan, destroying a district capital in the Hindu Kush. A 1998 earthquake measuring 6.9 killed up to 4,000 people in northern Afghanistan.

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