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Editorial: Double whammy

Since its emergence, the COVID-19 pandemic has had significant adverse health, social, and economic impacts in Afghanistan, drastically shrinking the economy and driving down public revenue. Most of all, people who live below the poverty line have been hardly hit. In a recent study by the global aid agency named Oxfam, the number of people on the brink of famine in Afghanistan has sharply risen from 2.5 million in September 2019 to 3.5 million in May 2020 – mainly due to the coronavirus. This is while the national revenue is said to have slashed by $800 million – a 30% decrease compared to 2019 – following the government’s efforts to enforce lockdowns and curb the spread of the virus. Meanwhile, since the initial spread of the virus, concerns regarding the virus-induced poverty being deadlier than the virus itself are gradually being realized now. On the other hand, the World Bank has approved a $200 million grant to help Afghanistan mitigate COVID-19 impacts and provide relief to vulnerable people and businesses. The grant is supposed to support the Afghan government to strengthen policies that promote faster recovery and keep basic infrastructure such as water, electricity, and telecommunications afloat and running. However, despite such grants and financial assistance are being channeled into the country, there is a lack of accountability and monitoring measures to ensure these aids are used where they are meant to. As COVID-19 has ravaged Afghanistan’s already frail economy, such aids are key to keeping Afghanistan afloat – that too if they are expended properly. Therefore, for breaking the cycle of hunger, the government needs to work on policy actions to help mitigate the impacts of the current crisis on the poor and vulnerable and also lay critical foundations for longer-term recovery. Meanwhile, as the Oxfam study found that 74 percent of its respondents didn’t have access to food, sustainable food systems should be developed to help small-scale producers and workers earn a living wage and make ends meet. Considering the circumstances, in addition to curbing the transmission of the virus, the government also needs to strike a balance in preventing people dying of hunger and famine in order to cope with the double whammy that is currently taking its toll on Afghans.

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