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.
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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.