Frequency and severity of earthquakes in Afghanistan



July 8, 2022

Frequency and severity of earthquakes

There appears to be no end to the woes of the Frequency and severity of earthquakes as the war-torn country has now been gripped with a disaster wrought by a deadly earthquake. A 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck south eastern Afghanistan, leading to wide-scale destruction across already vulnerable districts in Paktika and Khost provinces. In addition to loss of life and devastating injury, the earthquake has resulted in the destruction of critical infrastructure including homes, health facilities, schools and water networks, leaving thousands vulnerable to further harm. The earthquake was the latest calamity to convulse Afghanistan, which has been reeling from a dire economic crisis. The most potent difficulty experienced by the country was the stoppage of foreign aid considered the mainstay of Afghanistan’s economy for decades. The situation exacerbated when the world governments piled on sanctions, halted bank transfers, and paralysed trade, refusing to recognise the Taliban government. The Biden administration cut off the Taliban’s access to $7 billion in foreign currency reserves held in the United States.

The earthquake has strengthened fears shared among thousands in the impoverished villages where the fury of the quake has fallen most heavily — in Paktika and Khost provinces, along the jagged mountains that straddle the country’s border with Pakistan. Those who were barely scraping by have lost everything. Many have yet to be visited by aid groups and authorities that are struggling to reach the afflicted area on rutted roads, some made impassable by landslides and damage. At least 1,000 people have died and another 3,000 have been injured in an earthquake that is rated to be the deadliest earthquake to have struck Afghanistan in two decades. The earthquake was caused by stress built up from the collision of the Indian and Eurasian plates.

It measured 5.9 on the Richter scale that is roughly equivalent to 475,000 tons of TNT, or 37 times the energy released by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Tremors were felt as far as 500km away in Pakistan and India. One of the reasons why it was so destructive is that it happened only 10km underneath the earth’s surface. This part of Afghanistan contains the foothills of the Himalayas and here the tectonic plates are not colliding directly but are partly sliding past each other. The result of this is that earthquakes in this region tend to be more shallow and so the shaking is much closer to the surface. This earthquake was only a moderate-sized one but in terms of impact, it was extremely destructive.

Afghanistan is very prone to earthquakes because it is located on top of a number of fault lines where the Indian and Eurasian plates meet. In the past two weeks alone, there have been 10 moderately-sized earthquakes in and around Afghanistan with magnitudes of 4 and over. There have also been 219 minor earthquakes in the past year with magnitudes of between 1.5 and 4. Over the past decade more than 7,000 people have been killed in earthquakes in Afghanistan and there are an average of 560 deaths a year from earthquakes. Most recently, back-to-back earthquakes in the country’s west in January killed more than 20 people and destroyed hundreds of houses.

The 2015 Hindu Kush earthquake, measuring magnitude 7.5, killed 399 people. The earthquake was felt as far away as Xinjiang province in China, 870 miles away. Two successive earthquakes in the Hindu Kush Mountains in March 2002 killed more than 1,100 people. An earthquake in May 1998, in Takhar and Badakhshan provinces in northern Afghanistan, killed about 4,000 people. Nearly 100 villages and 16,000 houses were destroyed or damaged, and 45,000 people were made homeless. An earthquake in February 1998, in the same region, had already killed up to 4,000 people and made 15,000 others homeless.

It is mentioned by seismologists that Japan and countries in South America tend to have more earthquakes than Afghanistan but Afghanistan is particularly vulnerable, because the buildings there are not earthquake-resistant. It is pointed out that they tend to be built of timber and adobe – a type of mud brick – or out of weak concrete. A lot of damage from earthquakes in Afghanistan’s mountains also comes from the landslides they cause. These can flatten houses in mountain villages and also block up rivers, causing widespread flooding. Sometimes, it takes several days for news of an earthquake disaster to reach the authorities. Landslides can close roads, making it difficult to get rescue workers and equipment to remote mountain locations. Rescue efforts are then often hampered by hostile weather conditions such as rain or snow, fog, and extreme cold.

Most observers have expressed the opinion that the earthquake has hit Afghanistan at a particularly bad time. They point out that Afghanistan is going through a dire humanitarian crisis with some 3.5 million people displaced inside the country and millions of others are struggling to survive amid rising levels of poverty and hunger. The situation is indeed worrying and requires massive rehabilitation efforts. TW


The writ of international law
The writ of international law
M Ali Siddiqi looks at a crucial...
Resurgence of fascism
Resurgence of fascism
M Ali Siddiqi describes a dangerous...
President Xi Jinping
XI on his way to ruling China for life
M Ali Siddiqi talks about apparent...
Governance and equitable distribution of resources
Governance and equitable distribution of resources
M Ali Siddiqi talks about Governance...
The Need For Pakistan
The Need For Pakistan
M A Siddiqi expresses surprise...
The Presence And Essence Of Pakistaniat
The Presence And Essence Of Pakistaniat
M Ali Siddiqi describes a strong...

Get Newsletters


Subscribe Us