Sunday, January 04, 2009

Earthquake in Afghanistan

[cross-posted from my DailyKos blog]

No, I'm not speaking in metaphor. There was a magnitude 5.8 earthquake tomorrow morning in Afghanistan, near the borders of Pakistan and Tajikistan. It occurred at 3:43 a.m., 2009-01-05, local time, which was 3:43 p.m. Sunday here on the US West Coast. So far, no one is reporting any significant damage or injuries, although some minor damage will doubtless come to light through the day. Still, as any Californian can tell you, a 5.8 is strong enough that you know you've just been in a quake, and in places like Afghanistan, a magnitude 6 will often have fatalities. There is another reason that I took notice of this quake: the specific region of Afghanistan where it happened, Hindu-Kush.

If the name "Hindu-Kush" is familiar to you more than other places in the region, that might be because of the strain of cannabis or the variety of heroin named for this mountain range that sprawls over the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area. The region is also one of the most linguistically complex in the world, with Farsi (Iran), Pashto (most of Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan), Chinese and Hindi (India) joined by about two dozen local languages. It's also a seismically active area: just a few days ago, on Christmas Eve, there was a 4.6 quake in the wee hours of the morning.

I'm glad this quake was a small one, but it's a reminder of just how little most of us know about Afghanistan. Geography trivia: what two countries border both Iran and Afghanistan? [answer 1, answer 2] More than 90% of the world's heroin comes from Afghanistan, much of it from these mountains — opium poppies are a larger chunk of the Afghan national economy than everything else combined, with the Taliban skimming off enough to fund their resistance for decades.

I haven't decided exactly what I'm going to do, two weeks from Tuesday morning, to mark the end of the Bush Era and the beginning of the Obama Epoch, but most of all I'm glad that there will be someone at the head of our government who will try to make informed, reasoned decisions — somebody who can find Afghanistan on a map, and someone who understands that we need to focus our so-called "War on Drugs" on the point where it intersects with the so-called "War on Terror."

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