The COVID-19 pandemic has spread from China all over the world, including Afghanistan. To prevent the spread of the COVID-19, the Afghan Government applied a confinement that included the shutdown of all education and business institutions. The movements were restricted in the country. The Constitution and the UN CRPD obligate the government to provide health, livelihood protection under the COVID-19 crisis all over the country as well. Despite the restrictions and lockdown, the COVID-19 severely affected people’s lives and livelihoods. More than 1,400 people died and more than 35,000 people were infected by the virus (as of end of August 2020). The infection continued spreading fast during the writing of this report. But the government was forced to ease the restriction due to economic pressures on the livelihoods and other mounting challenges on vulnerable people, including persons with disabilities and mine victims. The challenges increased in unemployment, loss of incomes, shortages of food, decreased access to health services and education.
To find out about the challenges of persons with disabilities, mine survivors, who make — 13.9% of Afghan population (The Asia Foundation 2019) — and the disability rights organizations during the COVID-19 lockdown and restrictions, ALSO conducted this assessment with the participation of 42 mine survivors and persons with disabilities and nine disability rights organizations mainly in the provinces of Kabul, Balkh, Bamiyan, Parwan and Nangarhar – some of the most populated cities of the country. The findings of this report will help the disability rights organizations to better understand the challenges, needs and to better collaborate and coordinate their efforts in meeting the needs of persons with disabilities and mine survivors during COVID-19 outbreak and in future pandemic and emergencies, or crisis.
This report indicates that during the Covid 19 lockdown and restrictions, persons with disabilities and survivors experienced breaking challenges. In a nutshell the challenges included the followings:
- Disproportionate unemployment, shortages of daily food, psychological problems, increasing domestic violence and decreasing access to health services, including rehabilitation services.
- The physical rehabilitation centers like those that are provided with by the ICRC, had to reduce or limit their services in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and to help with keeping the required social distances and respect the hygienic needs.
- Persons with disabilities and mine survivors were not prioritized in the distribution of bread and other aids, provided by the government. Mine survivors and persons with disabilities had received limited access to the right information about the COVID-19 during the lockdown and confinement, especially women with visual impairments.
- Moreover, during the COVID-19 confinement, the disability rights organizations faced challenges in implementing their programs. They had to reduce their services by 25 to 75%. Some of them ran out of funds thus did not have the capacity and resources to reach out to persons with disabilities, especially those living in rural and remote areas.
- In addition, there was no appropriate collaboration and coordination between the disability rights organizations themselves and the government agencies in their response to the COVID-19 with regards to ensuring persons with disabilities get the right support.
On the basis of this report and our disability rights experts’ experiences, we are providing the following recommendations to the government of Afghanistan as well as to other stakeholders in disability rights, health, disaster management and others.
- The government should provide timely livelihood support to all persons with disabilities including mine survivors to reduce the most immediate impact of the COVID-19 among them.
- The government must ensure providing accessible information on the COVID-19 pandemic to all persons with disabilities including through sign language, brail, and other accessible means.
- The Ministry of Public Health should give priority to persons with disabilities including mine survivors in getting required health services during and after the pandemic.
- The Ministry of Public Health should provide peer counseling to mine survivors and persons with disabilities to reduce the increasing psychological problems including domestic violence.
- The disability rights organizations should have collaboration and coordination mechanism setup for the COVID-19 pandemic and other emergency incidence.
- The disability rights organizations should have close collaboration and coordination with government to protect the rights of persons with disabilities and mine survivors.
- The international donors and the United Nations agencies should consider allocating specific funds to local disability rights organizations to support the mine survivors and persons with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic and other humanitarian and natural disasters.
- The government should give priority to persons with disabilities and mine survivors in vaccination process, if it becomes available in Afghanistan.
- The National Disaster Management Authority of Afghanistan should include the special needs of persons with disabilities into its policies and programed, especially in its preparedness and mitigation plans.