The humanitarian disaster caused by a magnitude 5.9 earthquake in eastern Afghanistan — the country’s deadliest earthquake in decades — occurred at a challenging time for the Taliban-ruled country, which is currently in the throes of a hunger and economic crisis.
The quake comes as almost half the population – 20 million people – are experiencing acute hunger, according to a United Nations-backed report in May. It is a situation compounded by the Taliban seizing power in August 2021, which led the United States and its allies freezing about $7 billion of the country’s foreign reserves and cutting off international funding.
The situation has crippled an economy already heavily dependent on aid. Following the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, its economy has gone into freefall with the World Bank forecasting in April that a “combination of declining incomes and increasing prices has driven a severe deterioration in household living standards.”
The Taliban held an emergency meeting on Wednesday to organize providing transportation to the injured and material aid to the victims and their families, Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said.
Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund called the meeting at the country’s Presidential Palace to instruct all relevant agencies to send emergency relief teams to the affected area, Mujahid said in a tweet.
“Measures were also taken to provide cash assistance and treatment,” Mujahid said, adding that agencies were “instructed to use air and land transport for the delivery of food, clothing, medicine and other necessities and for the transportation of the wounded.”
Najibullah Sadid, an Afghan water resources management expert, also said the earthquake had coincided with heavy monsoon rain in the region – making traditional houses, many made of mud and other natural materials, particularly vulnerable to damage.
“The timing of the earthquake (in the) dark of night … and the shallow depth of 10 kilometers of its epicenter led to higher casualties,” he added.