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The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Afghanistan
Since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Afghanistan in February 2020, the total number of confirmed cases rose to 93,288, with deaths reaching a toll of 4,871 on July 1, 2021. Low government capacity and limited public health resources have hampered Afghanistan’s ability to contain the virus, amounting to only 0.9% of the population becoming fully vaccinated. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Afghanistan has been a domino effect across the country as many have fallen below the poverty line.

COVID-19 and Afghanistan

As COVID-19 continues to spread, Afghan citizens grapple with increased instability in the form of Taliban attacks on national security. The reduction of U.S. troops and decreased NATO assistance resulted in a 29% increase in civilian casualties and heightened corruption.

One of the most extreme effects of the pandemic is the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Afghanistan. In 2020, the economy contracted by 1.9%, and poverty levels rose from 41.6% to 45.5%, with more than half of the population living under the poverty line. These higher levels correspond with a significant rise in food insecurity, as suppliers raised prices in response to trade restrictions. However, the World Bank and USAID initiatives promise enhanced development of humanitarian aid efforts for Afghan citizens.

The Domino Effect: How Poverty Affects Food Insecurity

Food insecurity is part of a domino effect. As COVID-19 in Afghanistan continues to spread throughout, poverty levels climb as more civilians fall into unemployment, resulting in them being unable to purchase sufficient amounts of food because of a rise in prices.

According to the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the combination of COVID-19 and rising urban poverty levels are resulting in 16.9 million Afghans facing crisis and emergency levels of food insecurity. Of these 16.9 million, 5.5 million are experiencing emergency levels of food insecurity, severely threatening their health.

The surge and impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Afghanistan, along with food insecurity, is partly due to the early closing of borders. In March 2020, one of Afghanistan’s primary food import and export sources––Pakistan––closed its routes to and from suppliers to prevent the spread of COVID-19, resulting in a food shortage.

Although borders opened again in July 2020, the initial closing proved to be disruptive. Nearly half of the children below 5 years old will face acute malnutrition by the end of 2021. To put food on their tables and fund medical treatment, several Afghan civilians resorted to selling their organs illegally. These combined infrastructure and economic pressures outline a need for aid to Afghanistan.

Relief Efforts

To combat the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Afghanistan, various organizations implemented insecurity-reduction measures. In July 2020, the United States government designated more than $36.7 million to support COVID-19 relief efforts in Afghanistan through USAID. The United States allocated these funds primarily toward refugee assistance, health and disaster assistance and support for the Afghan government. This contribution proved helpful, as Afghanistan’s domestic revenues increased by 1.4% in the first quarter of 2021.

Additionally, the World Bank approved and issued a grant of $97.50 million in February 2021 to support Afghan civilians suffering the effects of droughts and COVID-19. By extension, a portion of this sum will go toward improving nutritional and food insecurity, which worsened as a result of widespread droughts and disease. This grant will also finance the Early Warning, Early Finance and Early Action Project (ENETAWF). The project aims to aid approximately 2.2 million impoverished Afghans and 78 districts struggling with poverty, drought and food insecurity.

Individuals in and outside of the United States can also support COVID-19 humanitarian aid efforts in Afghanistan by supporting Afghan businesses. Greater demand for goods will result in the creation of companies and jobs and the economy’s growth, so more funds go toward alleviating the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Afghanistan.

– Riya Sharma
Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid efforts in AfghanistanAfghanistan’s evolution after two gruesome decades of immense adversity has caught the attention of countries all over the world. The South Asian nation has made breakthroughs in infrastructure, getting millions of girls in school and improving community development. Nonetheless, foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan are still crucial for the further development of the country.

Foreign Aid Skepticism and COVID-19

The world wants to see Afghanistan succeed, but despite willing donors, definitive complications hinder the level of aid that Afghanistan is severely reliant on. The imminent withdrawal of U.S. troops has caused violence from the Taliban to spike while pressures of long-awaited peace talks between the two powers unfold, making donors wary of sending money that could be wasted due to corruption based on past events.

On top of that, COVID-19 is running rampant and bruising economies all over the world, cutting aid efforts in half compared to previous years.

Afghanistan’s rooted systematic issues will continue to undermine any reconstruction and development efforts unless a clear and mindful plan is made that addresses the topical concerns affecting the nation and motions toward this kind of growth are beginning to come to fruition. There are several important facts to note about foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan.

Cuts to US Forces Links to Cuts Toward Aid

To end the United States’ longest war, the Pentagon announced that a cut to U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 will be underway by mid-January 2021. This decision has already sparked vigilance and tensions between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban, as there is a great concern that the Taliban will feel invited to expand its influence and interfere with hopes of peace and progress. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, urges that Afghans are in “acute need” of humanitarian support, stating that nearly 300,000 Afghans have been displaced by conflict in 2020.

Deadly attacks on Afghan forces show the Taliban’s intentions during a time where peace talks are being strained after months of stagnance and it has made donors feel uneasy about whether the Taliban could abuse any funding meant for aid. Even amongst suspicions, foreign donors like Germany are still showing support, urging the international community “not to turn their backs on Afghanistan.”

Ensuring Prosperity is an International Effort

After 19 years of promised reforms and attempts to grow the economy after the U.S. ousted the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan will still be reliant on international support for the foreseeable future. Ministers from about 70 countries and officials from humanitarian organizations have pledged a total of $12 billion to the war-torn country over the next four years, at Afghanistan’s international donor conference held on Nov. 23 and 24 of 2020.

Germany has pledged $510 million in civilian assistance, the United Kingdom pledged $227 million in civilian and food aid, Norway pledged $72 million in development assistance and humanitarian aid and the United States pledged $600 million in civilian aid but made half of it conditional on the progress of Taliban peace talks. The U.S. was not alone in donating with specific conditions. All donors stressed that aid would only come as long as Afghanistan shows that it is committed to the peace process and that all parties to the Afghan conflict must respect human rights.

COVID-19 Causes Donation Restraints

Afghanistan is one of many countries taking an economic plunge due to COVID-19. The poverty level jumped from 54% last year to 70% during the pandemic, with more than half the population living on $1.14 a day, despite the billions of dollars devoted to the country over the last two decades.

A global pandemic combined with fragile circumstances emphasizes the need for foreign aid in Afghanistan, but with the heavy burden of COVID-19, most international donors have made significant restrictions on how much they can give. At the last donor conference in 2016, countries pledged a total of $15.2 billion for the years 2017-2020 compared to the $12 billion for 2021-2024.

Past Corruption is Obstructing Development

The U.S. government’s independent oversight authority on Afghan reconstruction, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), reported on October 20, 2021, that $19 billion of the total $63 billion that the U.S. has spent on Afghanistan’s reconstruction since 2002 was lost to waste, fraud and abuse.

With corruption forming such a stain on Afghanistan’s reputation and leaving remnants of distrust amongst potential donors, it is apparent why obtaining the necessary aid for growth and development has been such a hindrance for the war-torn country. That is why it is vital to ensure that future investments being made toward reconstruction are not lost and exploited.

Prospects for Peace

The Afghan government and the Taliban have endured a three-month impasse regarding peace talks that were finally brought to a close on November 2, 2020. The Afghan government and the Taliban are now expected to implement an agenda on how they can be partners in developmental changes and advancing realistic and sustainable peace plans.

As the world carefully watches the peace talks unfold, there is hope for a new start. Afghanistan is ready to transform into what it has envisioned for decades, and with realistic compromises set in place, there is an assurance that donors and the international community will feel less wary about foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan.

– Alyssa McGrail
Photo: Flickr