Humanity on the brink - GulfToday

Humanity on the brink

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Decades of warfare has destroyed Afghanistan and denied a majority of its 39 million people security, food, and health care and education.

Children across the world are threatened with violence, famine, disease, and illiteracy due to economic decline, political upheaval, and warfare. Children’s exposure is particularly

acute in Lebanon, where linked crises were totally unnecessary, and Afghanistan, where warfare has lasted decades. In both cases, these countries’ children are suffering from man-made debacles.

In Lebanon, UNICEF, the UN’s children’s agency, warns that children are increasingly at risk as 80 per cent of the population has been plunged into poverty as a consequence of one of the world’s most acute economic depressions for 150 years.

Thirty-four per cent of Lebanese suffer “extreme poverty” which afflicts 90 per cent of the 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon out of a total population of 6.8 million.

Pressing Beirut to rescue Lebanon’s children from multiple challenges, UNICEF’s local representative Yukie Mokou stated, “The staggering magnitude of the crisis must be a wake-up call.

Urgent action is needed to ensure no child goes hungry, becomes sick, or has to work rather than receive an education.”

She issued her plea as UNICEF released a gloomy eight-page survey of 800 families conducted in April and October. The survey reveals that deterioration in living conditions, which began in mid-2019, is relentless. “The future of an entire generation of children is at stake,” warned the report, entitled “Surviving without the basics: The ever-worsening impact of Lebanon’s crisis on children.”

In October, in 53 per cent of surveyed families at least one child missed a meal as compared with 37 per cent in April. In October, 40 per cent of families sold household items to buy food while 70 per cent had to buy food on credit or borrow money.

Hanan, 29, who lives in the city of Tripoli in north Lebanon told UNICEF, “Life is hard, it is becoming harder every day. Today I sent my four children to school without food.” She said she had contemplated suicide but was constrained by fear for her children.

During October, 12 per cent of families sent children to work. This included Lebanese children who had not previously been taken out of school to earn a pittance. Some 440,000 refugee and 260,000 Lebanese school children may never return to classes.

“Our parents need the money we earn. What would they do if we stopped working now?” asked Amal, 15, who picks fruit in the south. Her parents have no jobs. Her greatest fear is losing their home, which is rented.

Primary health care was not accessed by 34 per cent in October, an increase of 6 per cent over April. Ninety per cent were impacted by soaring prices of medicine as subsidies have been cut and many could not reach health care centres because of the high price of fuel for vehilces.             

 “The near collapse of Lebanon’s water sector poses a huge public health threat,” stated the report. Shortages affect vital facilities, including hospitals as well as 2.8 million people. The number could rise to 4 million, UNICEF predicts, risking an increase in “potentially deadly waterborne diseases.”

The report continued, “Many more children than before experience forms of violence, and intimate partner violence affects more women, with direct consequences for the children in the household.” Mental health care is sorely needed.

Lebanon’s crises are a result of decades of mismanagement and corruption. Lebanon rapidly bounced back from its first, brief civil conflict which took place from July 15 to Oct. 25, 1958, but not its second, a full-scale civil war, which lasted from April 13, 1975, until Oct. 13, 1990.

During the latter Beirut’s central business district and whole neighbourhoods of the capital and other cities and towns were devastated, thousands lost jobs, hundreds of thousands emigrated and an estimated 120,000 were killed. Recovery and reconstruction fell prey to politicians who bungled the effort and made fortunes, precipitating the country into economic decline which has led to multiple ongoing crises.

Afghan children face exactly the same interlocked crises caused by decades of warfare which has destroyed the country and denied a majority of its 39 million people security, food, and health care, and education. Girls have been denied schooling, kept at home, and married off early by the Taliban wherever it has established control.

Following a six-day tour of the country, Dominik Stillhart, operations chief for the International Committee of the Red Cross, declared, “I am livid. Pictures from afar of bone-thin children rightly elicit gasps of horror. When you are standing in the paediatric ward in Kandahar’s largest hospital, looking into the empty eyes of hungry children and the anguished faces of desperate parents, the situation is absolutely infuriating...this suffering is man-made. Economic sanctions meant to punish those in power in Kabul are instead freezing millions of people across Afghanistan out of the basics they need to survive.”  Thousands may actually freeze and starve to death.

He said that more than 22 million Afghans will face crisis or emergency levels of hunger between November and March 2022. UNICEF’s communications chief Samantha Mort elaborated by saying 14 million children are food insecure.

“UNICEF is very, very concerned because what we are seeing is around 3.2 million children who are acutely malnourished and 1.1 million children who are at risk of dying because of severe, acute malnutrition unless we intervene with treatment,” she warned. Winter snows will make this reaching the needy in the countryside all the more difficult.

“There’s no childhood [in Afghanistan]. It’s all about survival and getting through the next day.” Families are not eating three meals a day, meat is no longer affordable, and people rise in the morning without knowing when they will have a meal. UNICEF predicted that food stocks will run out halfway through winter.

While pointing out that the country has suffered conflict for the past 40 years, she said the crisis has deepened after mid-August when the US and its allies withdrew. This is due,

in part, to drought, poor harvest, and the Taliban’s exclusion of women — widows, divorcees and unmarried women — from employment which has deprived a “lot of families of their main source of income.” Sanctions have deepened and accelerated decline.

Mort said it is “absolutely critical that the international community understands that Afghanistan is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis..This is not time for political brinksmanship.

People in Afghanistan are dying, and they need our support. Humanitarian aid is the last expression of human solidarity.”

Photo: AFP

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