'May Allah remove the virus': Pandemic a grim addition to Afghanistan's woes
KABUL/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Delkhah Sultani scrubs laundry outside her home in Kabul as her young daughter watches on. She says she once got paid around $3 a day to wash clothes for other households but since the coronavirus outbreak hit, work has dropped and she now earns $1 every few days to support her and her four children. Like millions of Afghans, Sultani is facing economic distress and hunger from two disasters - the pandemic and the damage from decades of civil war. “Since the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan (in late April), I have not been able to find jobs for myself because people don’t invite me to their homes to wash their clothes anymore due to the fear of the coronavirus,” said Sultani. She said her husband was killed six years ago in a suicide bomb attack. “I don’t have money to take my son to the barbershop or buy food. Most of the time, we don’t even have anything to eat to break our fast.” At least 6,000 people have been infected by the coronavirus in Afghanistan and 153 have died, straining the country’s weak health infrastucture. Officials warn that the actual number of infections is likely to be much higher because few people have been tested. “We are facing increasing needs across the country and this pandemic is expected to severely impact the livelihoods of communities across the country for years to come,” said Parvathy Ramaswami, deputy country director at the World Food Programme Afghanistan. The coronavirus pandemic that has derailed even the world’s top economies is hitting Afghanistan as the government faces the prospect of a fiscal crunch and reinvigorated Taliban insurgents. Despite an ongoing peace process being brokered by the United States, attacks are taking place daily. “There is a conflict...and with everything happening at once an already weak state is going to have less time and energy to do even basic policing,” said Andrew Watkins, senior Afghanistan analyst at the International Crisis Group. The stepped-up violence and a harrowing attack on a Kabul maternity ward, suspected to have been conducted by Islamic State this week, prompted the government to switch the military to an ‘offensive’ stance.