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Afghanistan faces the Gravest Threat of all Time

Afghanistan as a country which is already on a Humanitarian crisis, has fallen on its knees after the outbreak of the pandemic COVID-19. Unlike in most of the developed countries, here the fear of dying in hunger exceeds the fear of exposure to the infection. Amidst these circumstances, the terrorist attack on the maternity ward on 12th Tuesday has made the country face the gravest threat of all time.

The index case of Covid-19 in Afghanistan was reported on 24th February in Herat. Today as on May 15th the number of positive cases has risen to 6,053 with 153 deaths, recording the highest number of positive cases in the country in Capital Kabul, followed by Herat. The health professionals fear that the count could be much more due to the lacking facilities for case detection.

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is in the south and Central Asia. Bounded by Pakistan to the East and South, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan to the north, Iran to the West and China to the Northeast. The landlocked agriculture-based country is popular for its extreme social lifestyles and famous poets.

“In Afghanistan, you don’t understand yourself solely as an individual. You understand yourself as a son, a brother, a cousin to somebody, an uncle to somebody, you are a part of something bigger than yourself” – Author Khaled Hosseini

As the pandemic started to infect the surrounding countries, Afghans feared the spread of the pandemic through the daily flow of people and exchange of goods through Durand Line which divides Kabul and Islamabad.

The government took measures to close the Torkam crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan to prevent the spread of infection for two weeks which was eventually extended over a month. The border closing also suspended the provisions and it is reported that when the border was reopened for the first time, some 5000 people including women and children crossed the border ignoring document checks and regulations.

Some 140,000 Afghan migrant workers have returned home from Iran’s deadly outbreak of COVID-19. As a country with 32 million population and with a history of 18years of war, Afghanistan is facing shortfalls in health care facilities to assist the overcrowded population.

In the war-torn health care system of the country, only one hospital in west Kabul could properly diagnose patients with COVID-19 and the hospital could treat only 150 patients at a time. As a country with a low health literacy level, the people are devastated without knowing whether they have the infection or not. Apart from the testing facilities, lack of masks, inadequate sanitizers and non-availability of clean water has made the pandemic tenfold harder for them to fight.

Knowing the present condition of the country the Government lockdown the Capital Kabul on March 28th for 21 days. Eventually, the nationwide lockdown is extended till May 24th. Public and private schools are closed, sporting events cancelled and weddings banned. Specifically, the annual celebration of Newroz, the Persian New Year in which thousands of people gather, was called off.  “If we don’t take coronavirus seriously, it will take us seriously,” says the Health Minister of Afghanistan.

Though the measures taken are commendable, the people widely ignore the lockdown fearing that hunger would kill them first before coronavirus does.

Afghanistan is an agriculture-based country which contributes 30% to the GDP of the country and employs 70% of Afghan people. The current lockdowns have made unemployment rates spike. According to data by the Biruni Institute, COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in job loss for some 6 million people, pushing 80% of the population under the poverty line.

The shutting of borders with main traders Pakistan and Iran, has led to the price increase in basic goods including pharmaceuticals with the increasing number of cases. Unfortunately, the Kabul market in which at least 70,000 people conduct business per day has become a centre for begging today. Experts say that in many cities residents are struggling to make a living as they face a stark between providing for family and preventing the virus spread.

The government and volunteers have taken measures to provide the starving nation. As the first phase of the food handout program, the government has provided 10 pieces of bread per day to a quarter of a million people living in Kabul.

“We have asked imams to send a message to people during Friday prayers that those who are rich should help the poor. Mosques are not only places of worship but also community spaces. 10,000 tons of wheat have already been distributed to people through mosques.” Says Dr Aminuddin Muzafary, deputy minister of Hajj and religious affairs.

Amidst the threats, the new novel coronavirus brought, hopes for peace started to loom when the US signed an agreement with Taliban on February 29th, on ending the eighteen years old war which impoverished the country.

Unexpectedly breaking hopes of peace, the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISK) started exploiting the peace treaty of Taliban. The high violent attack of storming a maternity hospital in Kabul killed 24 including two newborn babies, their mothers and an unspecified number of nurses. The incident was condemned internationally and regarded as an inhumane act.

As per the agreement the Taliban and the Afghan government are expected to maintain peace and to take measure to contain the virus from the country. If the Government, private sectors and the peace treaty works in hand to hand the country has a ray of hope to contain the virus and to make plans for a country flourished with wheat, poetry and hospitality

By Jumana Jabeer

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