Natural Disasters

'Structures in rural Afghanistan highly vulnerable to shaking'

Relief organisations have welcomed support from the international community in the aftermath of the Hindu Kush quake

By Jigyasa Watwani
Last Updated: Tuesday 27 October 2015

Courtesy: US Geological Survey

More than 300 people have died in the 7.7-magnitude earthquake that struck Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and parts of northern India on Monday, media reports say.

Abdullah Ahmadzai, the Afghanistan representative of The Asia Foundation, an international nonprofit organisation, said that provinces of Nangarhar, Badakhshan, Kunar, Baghlan and Takhar have been severely affected. As these areas are remote, the death toll is expected to rise.

Of many tragic deaths are those of 12 Afghan girls who were killed in a stampede as they tried to escape from the collapsing building of their school in Taluqan. Instances like these highlight the lack of structural safety of buildings in high-risk seismic zones which often cause several avoidable deaths, say experts.

“These provinces are part of rural Afghanistan, where structures are very basic. Most of the construction is unreinforced brick or adobe, which is highly vulnerable to shaking,” Ahmadzai said.

These areas are, however, sparsely populated, unlike many densely populated areas of Kathmandu which crumbled to the ground, dramatically increasing the death toll. The Hindu Kush earthquake also originated some 210 kilometres beneath the surface and, therefore, less damage is expected, Ahmadzai said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said UN agencies are mobilising help to support government-led relief operations in the affected areas.

According to a news report, seven other magnitude 7 or greater earthquakes have occurred within 250 km of this event over the past century, the most recent one being a magnitude 7.4 earthquake in March 2002 just 20 km west of Monday’s epicentre, with a similar depth and thrust fault orientation.

“Since 2002, the State’s capability, particularly its air support capacity in carrying out relief operations, has increased significantly. However, support from the international community is still required. We appreciate the assistance being offered by countries like India and the US,” Ahmadzai said.

He also emphasised the need for more comprehensive disaster mitigation in light of the stampede that killed the 12 school girls. “Yesterday, relief operations were hindered because we were unable to get accurate information. The State needs to focus on timely dispatch of accurate information,” he said.

With a population of over 28 million, Afghanistan has a complex backbone of mountain ranges running from the northeast to the southwest. Eastward, the Hindu Kush mountains are contiguous with the Himalayan ranges, gradually fading into foothills and desert plains towards the west.

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