Foreword by the Humanitarian Coordinator
The arrival of COVID-19 in Afghanistan has brought heartache to millions of people who are now battling a deadly pandemic while simultaneously fighting for their survival amid poverty, disaster and war. Over my three years as Humanitarian Coordinator, I have marvelled at the resilience of the people of this country to cope with the hardships of life in the world’s deadliest conflict – but even this remarkable strength is now being tested by the health, social and economic consequences of COVID-19. The virus is spreading across the country with frightening speed. Every province is now impacted, and people are understandably frightened.
A massive health response has swung into action under the leadership of the Government of Afghanistan. This work has been guided by health-focused prevention and response plans developed by the Ministry of Public Health with support from the World Health Organization (WHO), a wider government ‘Master Plan’ for responding to the impacts of COVID-19 and an initial three-month Multi-Sector Humanitarian Country Plan. Ten testing laboratories are now up and running, thousands of additional isolation and intensive care beds have been made available, training of health staff in infection control is being scaled-up, more than a million people have been reached with water and hygiene assistance to stymie the spread of the virus and safety messages are reaching millions of people in every corner of the country.
This decisive early action lays a strong foundation for the response, but the sheer scale and likely duration of the crisis gripping the country requires us all to step up and give more.
In a country where more than 90 per cent of the population is living in extreme poverty and 80 per cent rely on informal labour to survive, the economic consequences of COVID-19 could outstrip the direct health impact from the virus itself, sending people spiralling into financial insecurity and, in some cases, acute humanitarian need. For this reason, we have revised the Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for 2020 and now estimate a staggering 35 million people are in need of a social safety net, 14 million of whom are now in acute humanitarian need. This is up from 9.4 million at the start of the year.
A key driver of this increase is hunger. COVID-19 has put the world on the brink of a hunger pandemic and Afghanistan is on the front line. A third of the country is facing acute food insecurity including almost 4 million people at the emergency level – one of the highest figures in the world. COVID19, movement restrictions, the inability to work and rising food prices are also pushing this food crisis into urban areas on a scale not previously seen. Further adding to this increased estimate of need is a frightening protection outlook, particularly for women and children, in light of COVID-19. Genderbased violence (GBV) is increasing and could soar. Worsening poverty is expected to place increasing numbers of children at risk from negative coping strategies such as early marriage and child labour.
People’s survival will depend on the 161 dedicated humanitarian organisations operating in Afghanistan staying and continuing their hard work in support of the Government, under the most difficult conditions. For that we will require generous support from donors, in a demonstration of solidarity with the people of Afghanistan.
The revised HRP requests $1.1 billion to reach 11.1 million of the most vulnerable people with life-saving assistance until the end of the year. A comprehensive programme of assistance is planned to address not only new needs arising from COVID-19 but also pre-existing needs that are just as pressing, if not more so, in the context of the pandemic.
In 2020, the unprecedented scale of need demands that we aim higher and do more to relieve suffering, including finding more durable solutions that help in rebuilding people’s lives and connecting them with longer-term development programmes that give communities – girls and boys, women and men – the best chance of recovery. The 2018-2019 drought response demonstrated that the international community has room to improve in terms of connecting humanitarian and development work on both sides of the house. I am pleased to see that the COVID-19 response has already shown a change in approach with common analysis and complementary planning now underway, in particular with the World Bank.
The stakes for the response could not be higher at such a sensitive and fragile moment in the country’s conflict-ravaged recent history. While the potential for peace has not yet been fully realised, and fighting continues, moves towards reducing hostilities are an encouraging signal of hope. Peace remains the most important step in breaking the cycle of aid dependency, alleviating suffering and getting Afghanistan back on its feet. Until that happens, the humanitarian community remains steadfast in its support of the people of Afghanistan as they navigate the turbulent times.
I am confident that with the ongoing support of donors and continued commitment and investment of partners – humanitarian and development – and the Government’s lead - we can ensure that timely assistance reaches the growing number of people in need as a result of conflict, disaster and COVID-19. The people of Afghanistan are counting on us all.