Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
An aid shipment from Uzbekistan that includes 300 tons of flour, 150 tons of rice, 50 tons of ghee, 50 tons of sugar, five tons of soap, and some medical equipment arrived in Balkh on Friday, local officials confirmed.
The humanitarian aid has been sent to Afghanistan on behalf of the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev to help prevent the spread of coronavirus infection.
The aid consists of basic necessities to fight the coronavirus. The humanitarian aid was sent along the route Angren – Tashkent – Termez – Mazar-e-Sharif.
“Today there is no country in the world that would be indifferent to the fate of other countries,” said a press officer of the Ministry of Emergency Situations of Uzbekistan Samandar Hikmatullayev.
Advisor to Iranian Minister of Health Mohammad Asaei Ardakani referred to safety measures taken at air and land borders, saying many Afghan and Pakistani pilgrims have been screened at the quarantines prepared at borders.
Addressing a press conference, Ardakani said the suspected cases were hospitalized at the quarantines. He added that the foreign nationals were also screened when they entered Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Ardakani noted that the Iranian Health Ministry has been in touch with Afghan and Pakistani ministries to prevent problems.
Nestled on the northern outskirts of Pakistan’s most populous city of Karachi is a dusty, sprawling locality with limited access to healthcare and basic sanitation which is home to nearly 250,000 Afghan refugees who were forced from their country by a lingering conflict.
Piles of garbage, sewage gushing from choked gutters and unclean water, which often causes diarrhea and other waterborne diseases in children, have turned it into a distressingly impoverished neighborhood even by Karachi’s standards.
It is commonly known as an Afghan basti (town), where extended families jam into small mud and concrete houses and even in tarpaulin shelters, making social distancing impossible. In addition, a lack of water and sanitation products make this neglected neighborhood a perfect breeding ground for contagion.
But the people here are more worried about food rather than the formidable novel coronavirus, which has already infected and killed hundreds of thousands across the globe.
Apart from the government, scores of local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are trying to provide food and rations to the inhabitants of the impoverished localities in the country of over 200 million people, but these refugees are rarely a priority.
Karachi is home to more than 300,000 Afghan refugees, most of whom work as laborers or own small shops mainly in Pashtun-dominated areas. But a crippling lockdown that the government imposed late last month in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus, known as COVID-19, has left tens of thousands of refugees jobless.
To help stem the COVID-19 outbreak in Afghanistan, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) health teams, in close partnership with the Ministry of Public Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) at the border, are providing surveillance screening and medical care, and raising awareness around COVID-19.
“Returnees come back from Iran in a state of total exhaustion. Together with partners, we want to make sure that undocumented returnees are well briefed on their right to assistance and know how to protect themselves and others from COVID-19,” said Nick Bishop, an Emergency Response Officer with IOM Afghanistan.
In 2019, more than half a million people returned to Afghanistan, the vast majority of whom returned from Iran.
In Afghanistan, the Ministry of Public Health reports show that 239 people across 19 provinces are now confirmed to have the virus as of 1 April. Hirat is still the most affected part of the country, with 184 of the confirmed cases. Five people have now died from the virus. Contact tracing for the people confirmed with COVID-19 is ongoing.
As the coronavirus spreads in Afghanistan, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Centre for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists (CPAWJ) are concerned about its impact on the country’s journalists, especially women journalists, who are more vulnerable.
RSF in a press release said that they are threatened by economic precarity, the lack of protection and fierce competition between media outlets in the race for the news.
“These difficulties are compounded by economic problems, which have forced many media outlets to lay off journalists or switch to part-time working without pay, with women journalists often the first to be laid off. In some provinces, including Kabul, Herat and Balkh, some women journalists have been asked to work on a volunteer basis, while others have been laid off,” the press release reads.
“Afghanistan’s frail public health system relies above all on funding by the United States (via USAID), the World Bank and the European Commission. As the US is conditioning assistance to the Afghan government on its peace efforts, the current fraught political situation means the health system is weaker than normal,” the press release added.
The World Bank has approved a $100.4 million grant for the fight against COVID-19 in Afghanistan, according to a statement by the organization.
The fund is part of the Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project of the World Bank to help Afghanistan take effective action to respond to the threat posed by COVID-19 and strengthen its public health preparedness, the statement said.
The new “fast-tracked” package will cover all 34 Afghan provinces and reinforce essential health care services to slow down the spread of COVID-19 across Afghanistan, the statement said.
The project is financed by a grant from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank Group’s fund for the poorest countries, in the amount of $100.4 million, of which $19.4 million is provided from the World Bank’s COVID-19 Fast-Track Facility, according to the statement.