COVID-19: An Additional Three Million Children in Afghanistan Need Help to Survive in 2020, Warns Save the Children

Global pandemic means four out of every 10 children in Afghanistan now need some kind of humanitarian support

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (June 11, 2020)—COVID-19 is exacting a heavy toll on already struggling families across Afghanistan. An estimated 8.12 million children—or four in 10—will need some form of emergency assistance in 2020.

Earlier this year, Save the Children warned that an estimated 5.26 million children in Afghanistan would need help to survive in 2020. Since the global pandemic has wreaked havoc on Afghan public services, access to healthcare, and the economy, all of which are heavily reliant on foreign aid, the number of children needing life-saving support is spiking.

The latest UN estimates suggest 14 million people in Afghanistan—nearly 40 percent of the population—now need help to survive this year, up from 9.4 million just six months ago—that’s nearly a 50 percent increase since December 2019. 

COVID-19 in Afghanistan is having a catastrophic impact on millions of vulnerable families.  Preliminary World Bank estimates show that the pandemic and related containment measures are leading to massive disruptions to imports including vital household items, which in turn is leading to rapid inflation. Border closures have also meant a drastic reduction in exports and a sharp decline in remittances.

Large sections of the population depend on casual labor and jobs that are particularly vulnerable to lockdowns and social distancing measures, such as working in markets and selling goods in shops and on the street. Even before COVID-19 emerged, 93 percent of Afghan households survived on less than $2 per day, so the vast majority of families have virtually no capacity to absorb the economic shock of COVID-19 and the resulting loss of livelihoods.3 Meanwhile, the price of staple foods, such as flour, pulses, rice, cooking oil, and sugar continue to increase, making it harder and harder for families to feed themselves.4

Fourteen-year-old Abdul* lives in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan. When asked if COVID-19 has changed anything for his friends and family, Abdul said:

“The residents of our community are very poor and aren’t happy with [movement] restrictions taken during these days. They can’t find proper food for the rest of their family members and it is very difficult to find daily wage work in our community as well as around. We can’t play openly in our community as we were playing before so this has become very tough for all the children."

Many Afghans are almost wholly dependent on humanitarian support to survive, particularly the most vulnerable and remote communities in a country plagued by decades of conflict and frequent disasters such as floods and droughts, made worse by erratic weather patterns. Save the Children is calling for the borders to remain open for commercial and humanitarian imports as well as supply routes within the country. This would help keep inflation in check while allowing aid agencies to distribute life-saving food and medicine where it is needed most. 

Milan Dinic, Save the Children’s Country Director in Afghanistan, said:

“Despite Afghanistan’s numerous challenges, years of international aid and development were starting to pay off, with record numbers of children in school, and progress on issues such as child labor, poverty, hunger, and child marriage. The COVID-19 pandemic means these hard-won gains could roll back in a matter of weeks unless there is a rapid escalation of humanitarian support.

“For millions, health facilities are simply not easily accessible. The few that are operating and accessible lack basic resources, including COVID-19 testing kits and capacity to treat the very sick. It is therefore vital that humanitarian and commercial goods are allowed to flow into Afghanistan, and rapidly sent to where they are needed most.

“In its latest Afghanistan plan the UN is asking the world for more than one billion dollars to help meet the basic needs of Afghans. This is a big ask during a global economic crisis. But such crises always hit the poorest countries and the poorest families the hardest. The international community has an obligation to step up and ensure the safety, health, and well-being of millions of Afghan children put at risk by circumstances beyond their control. Now is the time to show solidarity with a country ravaged by decades of conflict, vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and caught in the grip of a global health crisis.”

*Name has been changed

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