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ICRC director ‘livid’ over dire ‘man-made’ situation in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: November 23, 2021)

Dominik Stillhart, the director of operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross expressed his anger on Monday at the world for plunging Afghanistan into the grips of starvation on the back of economic sanctions.

In a statement released after a six-day visit to the country, Stillhart said: “I am livid. Pictures viewed from afar of bone-thin children rightly elicit gasps of horror. When you’re standing in the pediatric ward in Kandahar’s largest hospital, looking into the empty eyes of hungry children and the anguished faces of desperate parents, the situation is absolutely infuriating.”

He said “it’s so infuriating because this suffering is man-made.”

Economic sanctions meant to punish those in power in Kabul are instead freezing millions of people across Afghanistan out of the basics they need to survive, he said adding that “the international community is turning its back as the country teeters on the precipice of man-made catastrophe”.

He stated that sanctions on banking services are sending the economy into free-fall and holding up bilateral aid, and that government staff who haven’t been paid in five months walk up to two hours to work instead of taking public transport. He said they have no money to buy food; their children go hungry, get dangerously thin, and then die.

During his trip to Afghanistan, Stillhart visited the paediatric intensive care unit at Mirwais Regional Hospital in Kandahar and painted an extremely bleak picture.

He said the number of children suffering from malnutrition, pneumonia and dehydration has more than doubled from mid-August to September.

Stillhart said that on Monday, the ICRC began supporting 18 regional and provincial hospitals and the 5,100 staff who work in them to help prevent the total collapse of the public health system in Afghanistan.

He said this support, slated to last six months, includes funding for running costs and medical supplies and will ensure the continuity of nearly half a million medical consultations per month.

However, this was not enough, he stated.

“Drought, failed harvests, and the economic collapse are all driving the increase in malnutrition. Rising food costs are pushing proteins and other staples out of reach,” he said adding that as the harsh winter sets in with temperatures well below freezing, the suffering will be immense as people lack the cash to heat their homes.

Stillhart called for countries to engage with Afghanistan.

“This is the only way to prevent a total collapse of essential services like health care and education. Political considerations should not interfere with humanitarian action. A political solution must be found to avoid irreparable humanitarian consequences,” he said.

He also appealed to foreign donors that have stopped helping Afghanistan to work through entities such as the ICRC so as to stop denying Afghans life-saving assistance.

Stillhart said while everyone knows it will be a tragic winter for Afghans, the ICRC will step up its response to help meet the most urgent humanitarian needs.

But, he said, this assistance is only part of the solution. “The existing and projected needs are beyond any humanitarian organization’s capacity to deal with or solve.”

In his appeal for the international community to step up its efforts to find a solution to the crisis, he said the desperation among Afghans can be seen in the huge crowds lining up in front of banks at 5 am in the hope that they can withdraw a little bit of cash – and in
“the empty eyes of hungry children” – which he said is something one will not soon forget.

“It makes my plea to the international community even more urgent: that it rapidly finds creative solutions to save millions of Afghans from deprivation and despair. Ultimately, this is in everybody’s interest as it will help prevent Afghanistan from slipping back into conflict and violence, and help give Afghans more means to remain in their country.”

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Putin discusses Afghanistan with Modi in Delhi

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(Last Updated On: December 6, 2021)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Russian President Vladimir Putin in New Delhi on Monday, with trade and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan both on the agenda.

“The fight against terrorism is also a fight against drug trafficking and organised crime,” Putin said in introductory remarks broadcast by Indian media.

“In that regard, we are concerned about developments of the situation in Afghanistan,” he said.

The visit by Putin and several top Russian officials comes amid increasingly strained relations between Russia and the United States, also a key Indian ally.

Earlier on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a deal to supply India with S-400 air defense missile systems was being implemented despite what he said were U.S. efforts to undermine the accord.

India and Russia are expected to cement several trade and defense pacts at the summit.

“The relation between India and Russia is truly a unique and reliable model,” Modi said.

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COVID-19: Afghan officials warn of possible fourth wave

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(Last Updated On: December 6, 2021)

Officials at the Afghan-Japan hospital in Kabul on Monday warned that another surge in COVID-19 cases in Afghanistan was expected after 620 new cases were reported in the past three weeks.

They said that 350 people out of the 620 have been hospitalized.

According to doctors, 10 people have died of the virus in this time.

“The problem is the lack of salaries and lack of equipment. If the virus comes from neighboring countries, we will face a major crisis,” said Tariq Ahmad Akbari, head of the Afghan-Japan hospital.
Sources have also said laboratory screening is being done privately due to the lack of supplies in hospitals.

“We do some of the [laboratory] tests outside that cost 1,600 [AFG]. We are happy with the staff at the Afghan-Japan hospital. Treatment is good here,” said Tajudin, a relative of one of the patients.

The Ministry of Public Health meanwhile said that they do not have the capacity to tackle a fourth wave of COVID-19.

“After the Islamic Emirate takeover, there have been problems. The World Bank supported the hospital financially. Because of this we don’t have the budget for Coronavirus and health staff and patients are facing problems,” said Dr Abdul Bari Omar, deputy minister of public health.

Some concerned citizens have however voiced concern about people not wearing masks in public and breaking social distancing rules.

Public awareness campaigns have also stopped.

This comes after a new variant of COVID-19 was detected in South Africa last month.

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Afghans urge IEA to preserve historical sites

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(Last Updated On: December 6, 2021)

Afghans have called on the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) to help preserve the country’s rich heritage of historical sites which they say could attract thousands of foreign tourists a year.

Dozens of historical sites are dotted around the country, including the famous Bamiyan Buddha niches. However, many of these have fallen into disrepair after years of conflict.

One local tourist, who was visiting Bamiyan, said he decided to visit the province following the take over of the IEA and the improved security situation.

“We came to see the area where the statues of Bamiyan are located, as a historical place. Security in the country has improved since the Taliban (IEA) came to power. People can easily travel from one place to another which was not the case before,” said Amanullah Mahmoodzai.

Another local tourist visiting the Buddhas was Hussainullah who also urged the IEA to restore sites. He said the local Bamiyan residents would then benefit from an increase in tourism.

“This is a historical place worth visiting. If it is repaired, more tourists will come and help the people of the area,” he said.

Another wellknown site is the UNESCO World Heritage listed minaret of Jam in Ghor province.

The 65-metre high minaret was built around 1190 entirely of baked bricks and is famous for its intricate brick, stucco and glazed tile decoration.

Since 2002, the minaret has remained on the list of World Heritage in Danger as it is under serious threat of erosion and for the past seven years, experts have warned that it is in imminent danger of collapse.

But recently, the IEA assigned a team of 30 people to safeguard the structure.

After the IEA’s takeover, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay issued a statement calling “for the preservation of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage in its diversity, in full respect of international law, and for taking all necessary precautions to spare and protect cultural heritage from damage and looting.”

Afghanistan’s cultural heritage is vast as for millennia, it was a crossroads of many civilisations that left a remarkable legacy, from the Medes to the Mongols, Mughals and Durrani, to the kingdom and the long period of conflict that started in 1979.

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