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The rise of the Taliban will lead to the rise of the Covid

by Pouria Nazemi 2 months ago in humanity

New waves of refugees will face many difficulties. The lack of vaccines in the camps is one of the deadliest.

Photo: Hamed Sarfarazi/AP

Kabul has fallen. The nightmare of the Taliban is becoming a reality once again in Afghanistan.

This is the tragedy of the 21st century.

If you ask yourself, "How this happened?" you won't find any simple answer. And don't satisfy with any solution that reduced the reason to one or two simple things.

There is a complex matrix of elements and parameters are in play. At least for half a century, many foreign and domestic players played a significant role in building this house of cards, which is now falling.

There will be hundreds of researches and analyses about these events in coming years, and even after that, there is a chance that we don't get our clear answer even after all those researches.

But one thing is clear: Afghan people are suffering.

The horrifying memories from twenty years ago, when the Taliban was in control, are still alive.

People still remember the reign of terror under the Taliban.

They executed people in stadiums when they destroyed all the cultural monuments, including the statue of Buddha, when they tortured women just because they went to the street alone, stories of rapes, murders, and when they created safe heaven for other terrorists such as Al-Qaeda.

Now and after 20 years, these are not any more stories and distant memories. They are the clear image of Afghanistan's tomorrow.

The full extend of the events of these days is yet to be known. But there are immediate consequences, and a new tsunami of refugees is among them.

The UN asks countries to open their borders to the people who are fleeing the coming darkness of the Taliban. Canada pledged to bring a few thousand Afghan refugees into Canada. And Iran is setting a significant refugee camp across its borders with Afghanistan.

Not all countries are going to welcome these refugees. Turkey is starting to strengthen its border with Iran to ensure that the refugees who come to Iran won't enter Turkey later.

The leading destination of many Afghans fleeing the country, especially among Shia Afghans, is Iran.

Iran was the main destination for Afghan refugees in the last few decades.

According to the 2016 census, about 780,000 documented Afghan immigrants live in Iran, and about two million undocumented Afghan refugees are in Iran.

Iran is not the dreamland for Afghan refugees. There is systemic discrimination against Afghan refugees in Iran. Many of them – even documented ones – can't even have a personal bank account or register a cell phone in their name.

In some cases, even they are banned from entering parks. They also have many problems with receiving appropriate educations and health care.

But in comparison with the situation of the future life under the Taliban's shadow, all of these hardships seem tolerable for a while.

Now, a new wave of refugees is heading toward Iran. On Sunday, August 15th, Iran announced that three refugees camps are establishing near the share borders of Iran and Afghanistan to host the incoming refugees.

When these groups of refugees enter Iran, they will find the situation in Iran is different from the past.

Iran is dealing with unprecedented economic hardships. Both the severe sanctions and mismanagement inside Iran left many people in despair. Tensions between Iran and the international community are high, and Iran's new government is still trying to fill its key positions. And the list of candidates for the cabinet and other high positions includes many inexperienced and politically motivated people.

And Iran is the hottest zone of the pandemic all around the world right now.

Iran right now is experiencing the fifth and, so far, the deadliest wave of the pandemic. The delta variant is killing Iranians.

Mismanagement of the pandemic by the government and disastrous policy for vaccinations brought the Iran health system on the verge of a breakdown.

According to members of the Pandemic task force, almost all the hospitals in the country are serving beyond their capacities, and one-third of all hospitalizations in Iran is due to the Covid-19.

The frontline health care workers are tired. They are fighting with covid for a year and a half without any break. And they are taking a devastating toll.

Only 3.8% of Iranian people are fully vaccinated so far, and there is a shortage of basic requirements such as saline solution for intravenous infusion.

Even in better days, a refugee camp can become a hot zone for many infectious diseases. Most inhabitants of these camps are suffering from health problems. The hygiene requirements are not ideal in these camps, and living in a highly-populated camp makes the spread of infectious diseases more straightforward and more rapid.

A new wave of refugees from Afghanistan are suffering from existing health problems due to lack of standard health care in Afghanistan but must deal with malnutrition and injuries during their journey. Hot weather added to this problem. And they are very likely to have Covid too.

Only 0.6 % of Afghan people have been fully vaccinated so far. When you are fleeing for your life, having masks and sanitations, and observing social distancing are luxuries you can not afford.

When they arrived in the camps in Iran – and other neighbour countries – they still need to live in very dense and populated camps, and it only takes one infected person to change these camps into an ideal place for a deadly outbreak.

Iran has not the potential and enough resources for the vaccinations of its guests.

Iran has the highest death per million due to covid, and all available data points toward another pick of cases and deaths in Iran.

This is not an Iranian or Afghanistan problem.

This is a humanitarian crisis.

If the international community can't or won't answer to the need for vaccinations and health care support for refugees, a disaster is inevitable.

This crisis is beyond political tensions, and the international community should address it accordingly.

WHO and COVAX systems should find a way to help these refugees and help to make vaccinations available for them.

This is not an easy task. Especially when we remember how much trouble and tensions exist between Iran and the international community.

But we must find a way.

Canada and other developed countries should address this crisis. Welcoming a group of refugees here is a necessity, but it is not enough. We must address this situation at its frontline and refugee camps in Iran and other Afghanistan neighbours.

In collaboration with the UN, WHO and Red Cross, maybe we can find a way to send vaccines to these camps and find a mechanism to ensure that these vaccines reached the arm of refugees.

Maybe there is no immediate solution for the situation in Afghanistan. Maybe there is no short-term solution for resolving political tensions between Iran and the international community.

But the urgency of the situation is high.

Those who have left their life and their country for just a shot at survival have the right to the vaccine shots to just keeping the flame of hope alive.

We all are responsible.

Epidemiologists told us over, and over that we will not be safe here if the world can't defeat Covid-19.

With the surge of the Taliban, the future of Afghanistan and the end of the pandemic is in jeopardy.

humanity

Pouria Nazemi

Freelance science journalist based in Montreal, Canada

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