Amnesty International is urging the Afghan government and the international community to scale up efforts to support the country’s 4 million internally displaced people (IDPs) who it says have “little or no means” of protecting themselves from contracting, spreading, and recovering from COVID-19.
In a report published on March 31, the London-based human rights watchdog said that IDPs in Afghanistan are living in "overcrowded" conditions, with "insufficient" access to water, sanitation, and health facilities.
Despite conditions "perfectly suited" to the rapid transmission of the coronavirus, IDPs have been provided with "precious little support to mitigate their situation," Samira Hamidi, the group’s deputy regional director for South Asia, said in a statement.
The group said "specific funding and resources" should be allocated for IDPs to meet their urgent need to access adequate housing, food, water, sanitation, and health.
To prepare its report, Amnesty International said it spoke to IDPs in settlements in Kabul, Herat, and Nangarhar, which each accommodate more than 1,000 families living in "huts constructed from mud, poles and plastic sheets."
IDPs there are unable to practice social distancing and quarantining, with as many as 10 people staying in one or two rooms.
Without basic services such as access to water and sanitation, they are also unable to maintain the hygiene required to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Amnesty International quoted residents of the camps as saying that they "have also not received any personal protective equipment such as face masks or sanitizers, nor has any information been circulated to raise awareness of COVID-19."
Meanwhile, lockdown measures imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus have "disproportionately" affected the employment prospects of IDPs, who predominantly work for daily wages in informal jobs, resulting in a loss of income and a "steep" rise in the price of basic food items, the group said.
Women are also exposed to "greater risk" of domestic violence, with limited access to protection services, while COVID-19 regulations restricting women's right to travel without a male companion have left them "dependent on male family members for food and other daily necessities, as well as the ability to access healthcare facilities."
"Though unintended, measures aimed at tackling the pandemic have had a disproportionately damaging impact on IDPs -- the country’s most vulnerable group," Hamadi said. "Dedicated resources and greater support from the international community must be forthcoming to mitigate that impact to the furthest extent possible."