Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, May 29th, 2020

The Vulnerability of Poor People against Covid-19

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The Vulnerability of Poor People against Covid-19

Though corona-virus threatens every one and every country in the world but poor people and poor countries are more vulnerable than richer ones. Inevitably people are more susceptible when they are malnourished or already in poor health condition. This hypothesis is not only confirmed by health experts but also by historical evidence. For example, the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 killed between 50 million and 100 million people worldwide whereas about 15 million of which was only from India because of being relatively poorer at that time than other parts of the world. So, it seems that there will also be carnage if no serious measures are taken in poor countries  such Syria, Yemen, Venezuela and Afghanistan where many health facilities either are weak or have been entirely destroyed by war.
In Afghanistan where the health services are already failing to meet basic needs will quickly be overwhelmed if the virus widely spread in the country. In recent days, it is said that at least 37 corona suspected people fled from a hospital in Herat province due to poor facilities. This, somehow, shows the capacity and ability of our health system which is not able to manage 37 patients. Then what would happen if the virus widely spread among nearly 37 million populations while half of them live in "extreme poverty" and live below the poverty line. According to World Bank criteria for poverty identification 54 percent of Afghans earn less than $ 1.9 a day. Based on global standard, if the people cannot earn 1.9$ on a daily basis, they are in a fragile poverty condition. In such a condition, how would people be able to fight with corona-virus if it farther spreads among the poor people?
Unfortunately, the poor people are more vulnerable against any natural disaster including corona-virus. During the current year almost a hundred shaky houses collapsed as a result of rain flood or earthquake and now their life may collapse as a result of corona-virus if we faile to curb the virus. The victims of such incidents are normally those poor people who neither have safe shelters nor able to seek personal solutions. That's why they lose lives after collapse of their shaky houses. Similarly, the poor people are more vulnerable against fluctuation of free market system because they have no extra money to save more food stuffs. So, if the food items prices are not controlled, at least half of the population will suffer from starvation and create a parallel crisis in the country. In recent days, the people have rushed to shops and markets due to fear of worsening the situation. As a result, food prices suddenly doubled in the country. For example, a 50 kg bag of wheat flour which was around 1500afs suddenly increased to 2500afs. As a result, hundreds of people staged a demonstration in Kabul to protest the sudden increase of the prices of foodstuff and other essentials amid panic caused by reports over spread of Corona Virus. The price hike farther created panic among Kabul residents, some of whom stood in line outside shops to buy supplies for at least three months. Fortunately, the Afghan government could manage the problem with the clsoe cooperation of private sector and the prices decreased the day after.
Though the market fluctuation is not confined to Afghan markets, the situation of Afghanistan is different from many countries due to economic dependencies and border closures. In fact, the corona-virus combined with economic poverty has changed to a nightmare for the already poor people but a golden opportunity for economic opportunists of the free market. Therefore, the citizens have repeatedly asked the government officials to interfere in the free market and not allow the shop keepers, pharmacists and opportunist companies to farther pressurize the people. In time of crisis, it is expected from all people to collectively take part in fighting against the common threats, not to worsen the crisis. Even with observing the first corona positive case in country, the prices of the hygienic stuffs and some food items have sharply increased in free market of Afghanistan. The government must not allow the economic opportunists to increases the price of hygienic and food stuffs in the country.
In addition to above cases, the poor people are vulnerable against political crisis. In political crisis, the poor people are more vulnerable because they usually get their payment in Afghanis while the Afghani currency has been in decline against foreign currencies, especially dollar. Now, with outbreak of corona-virus the difficulties of poor people are tripled in Afghanistan as they were already suffering from poverty and chaotic political situations. Corona-virus outbreak threatens our economy in one hand and due to political confusion and instabilities our national currency is losing its value against foreign currencies on the other. In the past few years, the artificial economic system of free market was not managed properly and resulted in current chaotic situation. Coronavirus outbreak has made the people concerned as the unemployment rate has reached its peak with around 60% people unemployed.

So, in these extraordinary times, we not only need to fight with corona-virus but also with poverty, hoarding and political issues. Unfortunately, the risk of becoming a corona victim is increasing day by day.  If we do not control the prices, there will be a tragedy as with rises of prices there will be more pressures on people to work more and go more outside while it is on the contrary to the general policy of combating the Corona virus. Currently, the policies of many countries are to keep people inside their homes to prevent the spread of the coronavirus but in Afghanistan it has been reverse.  

Mohammad Zahir Akbari is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammadzahirakbari@ gmail.com

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