COVID-19 SPECIAL: Afghanistan, Nigeria, Palestine, Darfur

Palestinian children at the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza strip. Palestinian children at the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza strip. © MOHAMMED ABED/ Getty Images

In Focus by Silvia Luminati; Editor: Sara Gorelli

1. Afghanistan

The Office of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) calls the parties to show unity to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and continue intra-Afghan peace talks. After decades of war, Afghanistan’s health system is underdeveloped and the few available hospitals focus mainly on basic care. COVID-19 outbreak threatens Afghanistan since it could have a “deadly effect” on millions of people who are facing malnutrition, living in poverty, or living in overcrowded displacement camps.  For instance, 9.4 million people -more than half of whom are children- have limited access to water, hygiene and sanitation. As of 4 April 2020, national authorities have confirmed 300 coronavirus cases, but health workers fear that the actual number could be higher since the controls along the border with Iran, one of the worst-hit countries, are limited.


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2.  Nigeria

According to UNHCR, 1.8 million people are internally displaced in Nigeria. Edward Kallon, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria said, “we will not wait for COVID-19 to reach camps for IDPs before we act […] They have already suffered enough from the decade-long conflict”. The UN system is working to reduce the spread of COVID-19 into the most vulnerable areas such as the displacement camps in north-east Nigeria, where people live “in congested spaces”. The IDPs camps have not yet reported any COVID-19 case, but humanitarian agencies are already installing hand-washing stations, distributing soaps, ensuring the supply of clean water and health services.


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3.  Palestine

The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process describes the Israeli-Palestinian cooperation to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 as “excellent, encouraging and constructive”. The statement noted that Israel has allowed health workers to move in and out of Gaza and the West Bank. However, the conditions remain dire since Gaza’s health infrastructures need medical equipment, hygiene kits, ventilators and other supplies urgently. As of 5 April 2020, 226 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed and Jamie McGoldrick, who chairs the UN’s COVID-19 task force for the occupied territories, said that the pandemic could be a “tipping point” in Gaza, referring to its collapsing health system.


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4. Darfur

The UN peacekeeping missions adapt to the challenges posed by the novel coronavirus. The peacekeepers are providing “multi-faceted support” to prevent the spread of pandemic in many countries where camps have been maintained to cope with protracted displacements. In Darfur, the Joint African Union-UN Mission (UNAMID) has already distributed supplies and equipment. It has also launched a campaign in IDPs camps in north and central Darfur to raise awareness on the disease and preventive measures. Moreover, the ICRC is accelerating its efforts to allow communities access to water in west Darfur where the water supply is under strain due to the high number of displaced persons (more than 180.000 according to UN).


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