Jun 22, 2022 - World

Deadly Afghanistan quake hits nation already reeling from economic, hunger crises

People help for the search and rescue operations on debris of a building after an earthquake shook Afghanistan on June 22.

Residents help in the search and rescue operations after an earthquake shook southeastern Afghanistan. Photo: Sardar Shafaq/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The massive earthquake that officials say killed more than 1,000 people in southeastern Afghanistan early Wednesday rocked a country already struggling to contend with deepening economic, hunger and other crises.

Driving the news: The withdrawal of U.S. troops and Taliban takeover last August helped plunge the country into a "catastrophic" humanitarian crisis made worse by Russia's war in Ukraine, a collapsing economy and protracted drought.

State of play: Nearly 20 million people — almost half the country's population — were facing acute hunger at the beginning of last month, according to a UN-backed report.

  • Tens of thousands of people faced catastrophic levels of hunger, the UN said.
  • At least 1.1 million Afghan children are expected to suffer from the most severe form of malnutrition this year, according to another recent UN report.

At the same time, about 18.1 million Afghans, including nearly 3.2 million children under age 5, are in need of health services, UN high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet said last week.

  • She warned that "the people of Afghanistan are experiencing some of the darkest moments of a generation," including grave human rights abuses.

The big picture: The freezing of assets and sanctions imposed after the Taliban takeover last year cut off international development aid and much of the other financial assistance the country was dependent on.

  • The Biden administration has taken steps, including issuing sanctions waivers and other measures, to allow humanitarian aid to be sent to Afghanistan. But UN human rights experts have warned the waivers have not made significant progress in financial or commercial aid to the country.
  • While some aid has continued, particularly by international organizations and UN agencies, the crises have only grown deeper in recent months, especially amid renewed attacks by ISIS and other groups.
  • That's been compounded by the shift in focus to the humanitarian situation in Ukraine where a war has raged since Russia's invasion began on Feb. 23. An aid appeal for Afghanistan at the UN in March fell short of its target, raising about $2.4 billion of the $4.4 billion of requested funds.

What they're saying: Taliban officials have called on aid agencies and the international community to provide urgent assistance in the rescue and recovery efforts after Wednesday's earthquake.

  • “We urge all aid agencies to send teams to the area immediately to prevent a further catastrophe,” Taliban spokesperson Bilal Karimi tweeted.
  • Another Taliban official, Anas Haqqan, tweeted: "We hope that the International Community & aid agencies will also help our people in this dire situation."

It was an appeal echoed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who expressed his condolences to Afghans "already reeling from the impact of years of conflict, economic hardship and hunger."

  • "We count on the international community to help support the hundreds of families hit by this latest disaster," Guterres said in a statement. "Now is the time for solidarity."

What to watch: President Biden has directed USAID and other agencies to assess how it can aid Afghanistan after the earthquake, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement on Wednesday.

  • "We are committed to continuing our support for the needs of the Afghan people as we stand with them during and in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy," he added.
  • Other countries, including Iran and Pakistan as well as the EU, have already sent aid or pledged support.
Go deeper