The United States (US) watchdog report warns that the coronavirus outbreak is likely to cause a health disaster in Afghanistan, which is still plagued by conflict, despite a peace deal between the Taliban and the US.
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in the report to Congress that the spread of COVID-19 has already affected Afghanistan significantly, from complicating peace efforts to forcing border closures that have disrupted commercial and humanitarian deliveries. “Afghanistan’s numerous and, in some cases, unique vulnerabilities - a weak health-care system, widespread malnutrition, porous borders, massive internal displacement, contiguity with Iran, and ongoing conflict - make it likely the country will confront a health disaster in the coming months,” the report, released in Washington, said. John Sopko, CIGAR's inspector general, said that Afghanistan “will confront a health disaster in coming months.”
The spread of the new coronavirus, which first emerged in China late last year, and quickly spread to the rest of the world, has now significantly impacted Afghanistan, according to the report.
Rising food prices in the impoverished country will likely worsen the crisis, Sopko said. The country has so far confirmed nearly 2,200 cases of the infection and 64 deaths.
In the meantime, the US has pressed the Afghan government to release thousands of at-risk militant and government prisoners. Under a deal, agreed between the Taliban and Washington, the Taliban agreed to halt their attacks in return for Washington’s phased withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan and a prisoner exchange with the Afghan government.
The Afghan government, which was excluded from the talks and was thus not a signatory to the accord, is required to release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners. The militants are obliged to free 1,000 pro-government captives in return.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), however, said in a report earlier this week that the Afghans had enjoyed a period of relative calm before the accord was signed, but the conflict resumed right after the peace deal. Under the deal, thousands of US troops are also scheduled to leave Afghanistan in the next few months.