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THREAT ASSESSMENT: 6.3 MAGNITUDE EARTHQUAKE EXACERBATES HEALTHCARE CRISIS IN AFGHANISTAN


Map of Afghanistan[1]


Summary


Two powerful earthquakes in western Afghanistan have resulted in a significant loss of life, with the death toll exceeding 2,400 people; the disaster has left many villages in ruins and underscores the region’s vulnerability to natural disasters.[2] The impact of these earthquakes is likely to affect vulnerable populations, including internally displaced persons (IDPs) and women.[3] With the healthcare system strained and relief efforts challenged, the most vulnerable individuals will likely struggle to access necessary medical care and aid. IDPs, already marginalized and living in precarious conditions, are likely at a heightened risk, as they may lack proper shelter and resources to cope with the aftermath of the earthquakes.[4] It is very likely that the healthcare system, already in a fragile state, could encounter funding cuts, hampering its capacity to deliver sufficient medical care and assistance to those affected by the earthquakes. The combination of a strained healthcare system and limited resources makes it likely that the impact on these vulnerable groups will be particularly severe. This event likely underscores the critical importance of establishing resilient healthcare and emergency response systems to mitigate the impact of future seismic activities and other crises in vulnerable regions, with a likely focus on providing necessary targeted humanitarian support for marginalized groups, including IDPs and women. Afghanistan's recent engagement in foreign policy, specifically its request to attack Israel [5], raises concerns about the government's priorities and neglect of domestic issues such as disaster relief.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) assesses with high confidence that without targeted humanitarian aid, particularly for IDPs and women, Afghanistan is at a high risk of enduring a protracted humanitarian crisis characterized by further displacement, heightened civilian casualties, and increased instability. An unlikely alternative outcome would involve a swift and effective response with specialized disaster preparedness measures that address the unique needs of these marginalized populations and mitigate the situation's deterioration.


Assessments

In the absence of the timely implementation of targeted humanitarian aid and disaster preparedness measures, particularly for internally displaced persons following seismic events, the situation will very likely worsen, likely leading to a humanitarian crisis characterized by displacement and civilian casualties. This issue further exacerbates gender-specific barriers, particularly Afghan women, who are unlikely to receive medical attention due to restrictions on solo travel and the scarcity of female medical professionals.[6]


Reports from the affected region include extensive damage to homes, infrastructure, and communities. The Taliban has reported that the death toll exceeded 2,000, including those injured, emphasizing the gravity of the situation.[7] ​​Afghanistan's healthcare system has faced challenges since the Taliban took over, with cuts in funding and a reduction in international assistance.[8] Given the pre-existing challenges of Afghanistan's healthcare system, the earthquake's impact is highly likely to overwhelm its capacity to provide adequate medical care and assistance to those affected. Further highlighting the nation's vulnerability to earthquakes are previous seismic events, such as the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Paktika a year ago, which killed over 1,000 people.[9] In the aftermath of the earthquake, UN-backed efforts allocated aid to the Afghanistan Humanitarian Fund, and UNICEF has established teams to provide humanitarian assistance.[10]


The earthquake almost certainly caused significant damage to the homes of many IDPs, exacerbating their already precarious living conditions. The destruction of makeshift shelters will likely force IDPs to seek alternative accommodations, likely leading to inadequate living conditions in temporary shelters. Many of these individuals rely on informal or daily wage labor, and the loss of their homes could result in losing their income sources. This economic hardship is likely to contribute to food insecurity, as the destruction of homes forces IDPs to seek alternative accommodations, often leading to inadequate living conditions in temporary shelters. There are often limitations in access to sanitation facilities and healthcare in IDP camps. The earthquake is likely to exacerbate health and hygiene concerns, very likely increasing the risk of waterborne diseases and the spread of illnesses among displaced populations. The under-resourced healthcare facilities in Afghanistan are highly likely to struggle to provide adequate medical treatment to the wounded, leading to a significant increase in the mortality rate following the earthquake. This disruption of supply chains will likely worsen the existing famine crisis in Afghanistan and increase refugee crossings into Pakistan.[11]


Future Implications

The earthquake will almost certainly strain Afghanistan’s healthcare system, very likely hindered by funding constraints and restrictions on female aid workers. Funding constraints and restrictions on female aid workers will very likely lead to a rise in preventable deaths and health issues in affected areas. ​​Immediate and targeted humanitarian assistance, including shelter, food, clean water, and medical care, is paramount to mitigate the earthquake's impact on IDPs. Efforts should focus on supporting IDPs, ensuring access to safe and stable accommodations, and addressing their needs. Failure to do so will likely result in prolonged suffering, increased displacement, and higher vulnerability among this marginalized population. The earthquake indicates the urgency of proactive measures to safeguard the lives and well-being of IDPs in earthquake-prone regions like Afghanistan. The earthquake's impact on Afghanistan's healthcare system and the broader humanitarian situation underscores the urgent need for international support and coordinated efforts to address the immediate medical needs, secure supply chains, and ensure the distribution of essential aid. Failure to do so will likely result in prolonged suffering, increased mortality rates, and the exacerbation of the ongoing famine and displacement crisis in the region. This event highlights the critical importance of building resilient healthcare and emergency response systems in earthquake-prone regions like Afghanistan to mitigate the impact of future seismic activities and other crises on vulnerable populations.

 

[2] Afghan earthquakes kill 2,445, Taliban say, as deaths mount, Reuters, October 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghanistan-earthquake-death-toll-500-red-crescent-2023-10-08/

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] IMMINENT WARNING: TALIBAN ASKED IRAN, IRAQ, AND JORDAN PASSAGE TO ISRAEL “TO CONQUER JERUSALEM”, The Counterterrorism Group, October 2023 https://www-counterthreatcenter-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.counterthreatcenter.com/amp/the-taliban-have-asked-iran-iraq-and-jordan-to-grant-them-passage-to-israel-to-conquer-jerusalem

[6] 6.5 MAGNITUDE EARTHQUAKE KILLS 13 AND INJURES OVER 100 IN AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN, The Counterterrorism Group, March 2023, https://www.counterthreatcenter.com/post/6-5-magnitude-earthquake-kills-13-and-injures-over-100-in-afghanistan-and-pakistan

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Afghanistan earthquake: Hundreds dead in powerful quake, BBC, October 2023, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-67039463

[10] Afghanistan: Aid efforts rapidly expand as post-quake death toll rises, UN News, October 2023, https://news.un.org/en/story/2023/10/1142042

[11] Flash Alert: EARTHQUAKE HITS SOUTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN. HIGH RISK OF HIGH NUMBER OF DEAD AND WOUNDED, The Counterterrorism Group, June 2022, https://www.counterthreatcenter.com/post/flash-alert-earthquake-hits-southeastern-afghanistan-high-risk-of-high-number-of-dead-and-wounded

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