When the world wrestles with COVID-19 and ponders its final victims, this world can actually be a plus pandemic scenario for some people, countries, and regions.
Prolonged conflict, familiar illnesses and natural disasters – above a number of political and governmental issues – can actually make novel coronaviruses a compounded threat to people in certain parts of the world.
Think about countries like Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Libya. Years and decades of endless armed conflict means inadequate, if at all, health officials in most of these countries. Even a very low level of COVID infection will only be outside the system’s ability to handle, causing many people to die unintentionally.
Take Afghanistan, for example. While the number of infections is currently low at around 400 with around a dozen deaths reported, it appears that around 2.00,000 refugees and migrant workers returning from Iran are not being tested – raising concerns that a wave of large-scale infections may just be around the corner. In the case of Yemen, a severe level of hunger among a large population also means a very weak level of resistance to any disease. This situation is no better at all in the Syrian and Libyan war zones.
Refugees and Temporary Refugees (TDP) face additional vulnerabilities. Millions of Syrians in Turkey and Afghanistan in Iran and Pakistan live in crowded and incomplete camps. So, maybe worse, is the case for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in Bangladesh. Poor living conditions and little access to quality health services might translate into a much higher risk, even with small-scale outbreaks of this difficult virus to control. Social alignment and isolation are unthinkable in unfavorable situations.
In Pakistan, this is also the beginning of the time when dengue cases begin. Over the past few years, every year the country has lost dozens of lives with thousands of infections paralyzing services at the Department of Outpatients (OPD) public hospitals at their peak in the summer. At present, public hospital OPD has been closed to protect the spread of COVID-19. It is a nightmare to imagine the culmination of two difficult diseases to deal with that strike together, or even follow one another, in a short span of time.
Over the past few months, countries from East Africa to the Middle East to Southwest Asia have faced devastating locust attacks on their crops – the worst since 1993. Millions of hectares of food crops in these three regions have been destroyed, or on the verge of being lost by this little flying creature. Unobstructed food supplies are difficult to emphasize too much during a pandemic. Unless properly maintained, grasshoppers remain a serious threat to the food security of tens of millions of people.
More importantly, experts warn that millions of eggs have been laid by grasshoppers in countries such as Pakistan, and a new breeding / reproduction season is also emerging. This tells us that the harvest of cotton and corn will also be in danger, especially in the poorest countries where agriculture is the sole livelihood.
The oppressed population is another group that faces additional danger. The world is very aware of the virtual curfew in India held by Kashmir (CPI) for more than eight months now, since August 5, 2019. The situation in the occupied Palestinian territories is almost no different. Tight control over medical supplies and important items, and sources of information, are all ready to multiply the impact of a pandemic once the outbreak occurs in such an environment.
And unfortunately not only for the occupied territories of Kashmir and Palestine. The attitude of the Ruling Bhartia Janta Party (BJP) towards 200 million plus Indian Muslims – especially the recent law aimed at their exclusion – makes the Muslim population in India even more threatened when a pandemic breaks out in such a vast, overcrowded but not populous country well equipped. . Reports of Muslim truck drivers transporting staple goods in these difficult times have begun to emerge, and public statements by politicians fanned the flames of anti-Muslim communalism.
And the last but not least, paralyzing sanctions against certain countries. It has been widely reported internationally that US sanctions severely limit Iran’s response – among one of the countries worst affected – to COVID-19. Tehran cannot easily import important supplies to fight the virus which has killed around 4,000 Iranians.
Now it is time that US sanctions also hamper the supply of medical and humanitarian assistance not only to Iran but also to Cuba and Venezuela – specifically aid sent by China and its companies. This is indeed a serious humanitarian dilemma for sanctioned countries. It is good to note that voices, international as well as from within the US, began to be raised to the inhumane effects of these restrictions.
Rising risks require special attention, from the government and international institutions. Let’s hope the world can realize this, coming up with timely and directed responses.
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