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    Duty calls to alleviate suffering in Afghanistan

    CountriesAfghanistanDuty calls to alleviate suffering in Afghanistan
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    Duty calls to alleviate suffering in Afghanistan

    Imagine for a minute that you are in those conditions; you need to put food on the table for your starving children, it is freezing cold, and you have no money because you lost your job or because there is no money to pay you. What would you do?

    By Xavier Castellanos

    A few years back I witnessed extreme humanitarian need across Afghanistan. One of Asia’s poorest countries, millions of people were living below the poverty line. It was heartbreaking to see first-hand the impacts of one the highest child mortality rates in the world. To witness one of the most disaster-prone countries on earth routinely enduring severe droughts, earthquakes and flash floods.

    This year I returned to see that these humanitarian needs have intensified. One of the worst droughts in decades has crippled food production across the country, livestock has perished, and millions of families in rural and regional areas are going without adequate food on a daily basis.

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    Around 23 million people are experiencing high levels of acute food shortages – more than one in two Afghans. Among those most at risk are 3.2 million children under five suffering acute malnutrition.

    International sanctions imposed on the country have deepened economic hardships being experienced by millions of families. Many have not been paid for months, essential services are not being delivered, and large parts of the healthcare system are on the brink of collapse. Public hospitals, which treat the most vulnerable, lack fuel for heating, medicine, and basic medical supplies.

    The crisis in Afghanistan has not transitioned since my previous visit, rather it has grown: the country’s most marginalised – the mentally ill, widows, orphans – are in desperate need of support. I have seen how poverty has deepened in these latest humanitarian crises. Yet the Afghan spirit remains strong.

    COVID-19 is further compounding social and economic hardship, as heath systems struggle to cope and the risk of another wave of the virus looms large, while a bitter winter hits the most vulnerable communities harder than ever.

    The Red Cross is doing its best to respond to these multiple crises, supporting people in the hardest to reach areas, hand in hand with the Afghanistan Red Crescent Society. It is overwhelming but it does not need to be this way.

    Imagine for a minute that you are in those conditions; you need to put food on the table for your starving children, it is freezing cold, and you have no money because you lost your job or because there is no money to pay you. What would you do?

    I am sure you would start selling any possessions of value on the market or trading them for food. To warm your already poorly maintained house, that is leaking and damp, you would most probably start burning whatever was available, to bring some comfort at home. Some of those materials might be highly polluted, affecting you and your family’s lungs and respiratory system, the symptoms only appearing in several years’ time. But the task is to survive today; that is what is happening in Afghanistan.

    Imagine all the stress that this creates on individuals that live every day in those conditions. All the stress on humanitarians who want to do more but lack the funding to increase support. We, the humanitarian community are leaving behind millions of people. They are not just numbers, they are people with dreams, values, hope, and ambitions like you and me.

    Is the International Federation of Red Cross doing the best it can? We have been in Afghanistan for 30 years, supporting the Afghanistan Red Crescent Society across the country, providing comprehensive relief, delivering essential medical care through mobile health clinics, and addressing the economic impacts of COVID-19 with income generation projects and community education.

    Can we do more? Absolutely yes if financial conditions would allow us to do so. But it is essential that our work focuses on the most acute needs, placing local action at the core of everything we do. It’s critical that there is more investment in supporting livelihoods initiatives to reactivate the local economy, providing solutions for farming families to produce food, improving access to safe and reliable drinking water, and reinforcing health and sanitation services.

    Amid the immense hardships felt by so many Afghans, it is crucial that the most vulnerable have dignity and hope and find ways to alleviate miserable living conditions. Alleviating poverty is an imperative. Reinforcing and increasing mobile health clinics and comprehensive services is critically important for women and children and everyone across Afghanistan.

    We must invest heavily in supporting the people of Afghanistan to have positive coping mechanisms to help meet these immense challenges. We must applaud the passion, commitment and action of thousands of aid workers and volunteers in Afghanistan, both men and women, who work from dawn to dusk to support their local communities.

    The world must not stand by and allow the humanitarian crises to deepen in Afghanistan. We need to promote a spirit of global empathy recognising the immense human suffering and we must be there with humanity when it is needed most.

     

    Xavier Castellanos is Under Secretary General, National Society Development and Operations Coordination, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

     

    Image: Hippopx, license to use under Creative Commons Zero – CC0

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