HAMNET report 26th June 2022

CNN reports that aid groups scrambled on Thursday to reach victims of a powerful earthquake that rocked eastern Afghanistan, killing more than 1,000 people in an area blighted by poor infrastructure, as the country faces dire economic and hunger crises.

The slow response, exacerbated by international sanctions and decades of mismanagement, concerns people working in the humanitarian space, like Obaidullah Baheer, lecturer in Transitional Justice at the American University of Afghanistan. “This is a very patchwork, band-aid solution for a problem that we need to start thinking (about) mid to long term… what do we do when (another disaster) hits?” he asked CNN by phone.

The magnitude 5.9 quake struck during the early hours of Wednesday near the city of Khost close to the Pakistan border and the death toll is expected to rise as many of the homes in the area were flimsily made out of wood, mud and other materials vulnerable to damage.

Humanitarian agencies are converging on the area, but its remote location has complicated rescue efforts.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has successfully dispatched humanitarian aid and assistance to families in Paktika and Khost provinces to cover the needs of about 4,000 people, a spokesperson for UN Secretary General António Guterres said during a Thursday press briefing.

Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said the “priority needs include emergency shelter and non-food items, food assistance, health and water and sanitation, as well as hygiene support.”

He added that the World Food Program (WFP) has confirmed stocks of food will be able to serve at least 14,000 people in the hardest-hit Paktika province.

“At least 18 trucks are making their way to the earthquake-affected areas carrying emergency supplies, including high-energy biscuits and mobile storage units,” a WFP statement released Thursday said.

UNICEF Afghanistan tweeted that they were able to distribute “hygiene kits, winter kits, emergency family kitchen kits, tents, blankets, warm clothes and tarpaulin” to affected individuals in Paktika and Khost.

The quake coincided with heavy monsoon rain and wind between June 20 and 22, which has hampered search efforts and helicopter travel.

As medics and emergency staff from around the country attempt to access the site, help is expected to be limited as a number of organizations pulled out of the aid-dependent country when the Taliban took power in August last year.

Those that remain are stretched thin. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it had mobilized “all of the resources” from around the country, with teams on the ground providing medicine and emergency support. But, as one WHO official put it, “the resources are overstretched here, not just for this region.”

It is estimated that 7,000 people were exposed to very strong and 119,000 to strong shaking. The most affected province is Paktika Province (south of Khost Province) with at least 200 deaths, but fatalities were also reported in the Provinces of Khost and Nangarhar. The seismic event was also felt in Pakistan and India.

Southgate Amateur Radio News reports that Ofcom is proposing to allow satellite operators to access more spectrum so they can provide a wider range of broadband services, including in hard-to-reach areas.

Ofcom says “As consumer demand for satellite services increases, we want to support innovation by extending spectrum access under our Earth Station Network licence to include the 14.25-14.5 GHz band.

“This would double the capacity available to satellite operators in what is known as the “Ku band”, meaning they would be able to use the full 14-14.5 GHz band for their services.

“This would support better broadband for more rural homes and businesses, as well as connecting planes and ships. In the future, these new frequencies could also help connect road vehicles, trains and drones, including in more remote parts of the UK.

“As part of this approach, new conditions would also be introduced to protect existing radio astronomy sites making observations in the 14.47-14.5 GHz band from interference. We also plan to introduce temporary conditions to protect any fixed links remaining temporarily in the band.”

They don’t specify whether these frequency allocations would only apply to the UK, or whether the allocations would also be encouraged in other parts of the world.

Reporting on Wednesday the 22nd, on cnet.com, Erick Mack noted that space weather watchers were keeping a close eye on a dark and volatile spot on the sun that had grown dramatically this week.

Between Sunday and Monday, Sunspot AR3038 more than doubled in size, making it several times wider than Earth’s diameter, and it continued to expand until Wednesday, according to NASA heliophysicist C. Alex Young, writing at EarthSky.

Sunspots are darkened, cooler areas on the sun’s surface with unstable magnetic fields, and they can produce solar flares and coronal mass ejections of charged particles and plasma. These flares and ejections occasionally cause chaos for electrical and radio communications systems here on Earth.

Over the last day, the mega-sunspot let off a pair of minor, C-class solar flares while pointing straight at Earth, but Astronomer Tony Phillips reports at Spaceweather.com that “Sunspot AR3038 has a ‘beta-gamma’ magnetic field that harbours energy for (medium strength) M-class solar flares.”

Generally M-class flares aren’t that big of a deal, but earlier this year, a flurry of M-class flare activity created a geomagnetic storm strong enough that SpaceX reported it had essentially fried a number of its Starlink satellites.

Our magnetosphere prevents the radioactive eruptions from harming life on the surface of Earth, but it does pose a risk to our communications systems, astronauts in space and even the electrical grid on the ground, particularly more powerful X-class flares.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Centre forecast a 25 to 30 percent chance of M-class flares over the following three days and a 5 to 10 percent chance of X-class flares.

We end this bulletin in the same manner that we started it, with news of another Magnitude 5+ earthquake, this one a 5.6 strength quake on the Iranian coast of the Gulf of Aden, which occurred yesterday morning at 2am our time.

It occurred at a depth of 10km and exposed a smallish population of about 3000 people to severe shaking. At the time of writing, I am unaware of any casualties or humanitarian assistance needed. There may be more news next week.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.