The Amnesty International says Afghanistan’s four million of internally displaced people (IDPs) were already living in dire conditions when the COVID-19 pandemic hit globally, and the overcrowded IDPs camps were soon identified as places that demands urgent action by the authorities.
AI in a report published on Wednesday said that with limited resources available in the country, and considering the large number of people in camps, adequate help never arrived, but the lockdowns and other COVID-19 regulations meant that finding livelihoods more difficult, creating food insecurities within the camps, in addition to lack of water, sanitation and healthcare.
To assess the human rights situation of IDPs in the COVID pandemic, Amnesty International interviewed more than 20 newly displaced and protracted IDPs in settlements in Kabul, Herat and Nangarhar provinces in July 2020. Some of the IDPs were also interviewed during Amnesty International’s previous research in 2012 and 2016, which allowed to follow up on their situation. The organization also spoke to the Afghanistan authorities – the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR) and also reviewed regular field reports compiled by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) in Afghanistan and other humanitarian organizations providing aid to IDPs in response to COVID-19.”
“How could we keep social distancing if all 8 people are living in one room which is made of mud, pole and plastic sheets with a very small light and no ventilation? How could we wash our hands for 20 seconds if we can’t find water to drink and buying each bottle of 25 liters of water for 15 Afghani? How could we quarantine someone with the signs of coronavirus if we only have one room? How we could get tested if we do not have the money to travel to the hospitals where they would perform free coronavirus tests?” said an IDP man, displaced from Laghman province.
The Amnesty International believes that the outbreak of COVID 19 adds to the extraordinary challenges that Afghanistan faces. “Against the backdrop of the ongoing conflict, the pandemic overwhelmed the already weak health system in the country. With only 150 hospitals15 and just four doctors per 10,000 people, few facilities for testing and treatment, inadequate health care facilities, and poor government coordination16, Afghanistan is ill-equipped to mount an effective response. A shortage of protective personal equipment (PPE) has also resulted in many health workers being infected with the virus and even dying as a result of it. There have been serious allegations of government officials embezzling funds from international donors.”
The report said, with more than 90 percent of the country’s population already living under the poverty line, COVID19 has had a particularly severe socio-economic impact on the whole population but particularly the most marginalized including IDPs45. “If they can secure employment, IDPs predominantly work in low-paying informal jobs in markets and as daily wage earners. Their situation has been made even worse due to COVID 19-associated lockdowns resulting in loss of income and reduced access to markets whilst having to deal with soaring prices of goods and commodities, as the prices for some basic food items increased by more than 20 percent during the first half of 2020. The most recent household survey data shows that close to 15 million Afghans across 2 million households were particularly vulnerable to economic lockdown. At the same time, there has been wholly inadequate social protection including lack of income and food support.”
IDPs to whom Amnesty International spoke, said that they either had not received any food-related relief or it has been completely insufficient to help them survive the crisis.
“Though there are emergency food assistance programmes done by agencies, they are nowhere near meeting the demand. Several organisations have said that many households in Afghanistan face crisis level of food insecurity. Due to the spread of COVID 19 and change in different humanitarian organizations policy, travelling to the camps, and engaging with large communities were impossible. Humanitarian organizations working with IDPs had to pause their service delivery to tackle the pandemic spread. Donor’s supporting the service delivery services did not have any plans to provide immediate support to IDPs during the pandemic first and second waves. Consequently, they were forced to borrow money to provide food for their families, resulting in accumulated debt which is increasingly difficult to pay back in the absence of any work or any other means of income support.”
The report added that COVID-19 has also exacerbated the vulnerabilities of women who continue to suffer gender-based inequality due to social conservative patriarchal norms restricting their access to health and other basic services and resources.