During the first two weeks of October, a series of devastating earthquakes struck north west Afghanistan, claiming the lives of at least 1,500 people. According to the UN, this series of disasters has already affected 1.6 million people, with 114,000 needing urgent humanitarian assistance.

But what makes earthquakes so common in Afghanistan, and so destructive?  

1. The geography of Afghanistan

Afghanistan sits on numerous fault lines between the Indian and the Eurasian tectonic plates, with a fault line also running directly through Herat, the site of the most recent disaster. Due to this geographic location, Afghanistan has experienced 276 earthquakes in the last year alone, all differing in severity and impact.

The latest series of major earthquakes happened as a result of thrust faulting near the far-western end of the Hindu Kush mountain range. Most often, Afghanistan’s largest earthquakes strike in regions of Afghanistan where these mountains lie, but seismic activity can also occur in the country’s lowlands. 

When earthquakes strike, their magnitude is important but also their depth, with shallow earthquakes wrecking more damage than those deeper into the Earth. Afghanistan is unfortunately prone to these shallow earthquakes, due to the region's tectonic plates often slipping past one another, as opposed to colliding directly. 

2. Infrastructure

With 21,500 homes destroyed and over 17,000 other buildings damaged in the recent Herat earthquakes, it is evident that the effects of these natural disasters on Afghan infrastructure has been wide-ranging, and only exacerbates cycles of poverty and displacement.

Decades of conflict, natural disasters and poverty have all taken its toll on Afghan infrastructure, with many buildings already damaged, and thus ill-equipped to deal with quakes or shocks. 

Additionally, when earthquakes strike it is rural regions where the damage is most often at its peak. These remote, underserved communities often live in homes called qal-ahs that are built from less robust materials such as mudbrick, heightening their vulnerability. Due to the isolation of these villages, ensuring rapid support from humanitarian organisations and government bodies can be difficult. Often, these disasters damage crucial transport links and roads out of the community, making it difficult to access emergency services, or immediately notify surrounding areas of the damage. 

3. An already dire humanitarian crisis

When disasters like earthquakes hit, they can worsen existing crises, and this is especially true in Afghanistan, where communities have already been tackling severe food insecurity, unemployment, economic collapse, floods and droughts, and restrictions on the freedoms of women and girls.

When these already stretched households lose family members, homes and livelihoods, it further diminishes their ability to recover and rebuild. To support them through these exceptionally challenging times, our teams work alongside these vulnerable communities to ensure they can meet their basic needs, whilst also increasing their ability to once more earn an income, and get back on their feet. 

How can I help families affected by earthquakes?

By donating to our emergency appeal, you can bring vital support to the families that need it most, whilst demonstrating your unwavering support to the communities of Herat province: 

Do you want to help communities adapt to natural disasters and mitigate their impact? Become a part of our regular giving community, and be catalyst for sustainable change across rural Afghanistan.