COVID-19 threatens crowded camps with humanitarian catastrophe and famine
April 14, 2020
As humanitarian experts give dire warning that a “third wave” of coronavirus may soon swamp the under-resourced nations of the world – particularly those hosting refugees by the millions or weakened by war – Zakat Foundation of America is rushing emergency food and medical aid to its helpless victims on the brink.
The emerging tsunami of COVID-19 death imperils 70.8 million displaced, trapped in the cramped living conditions of the world’s camp shelters. These include 25.9 million refugees, the highest ever seen; 41.3 million internally displaced, and 3.5 million asylum-seekers, including the Central American and Mexican families split up and detained at the U.S.’s southern border.
These displaced and migrating already suffer from meager medical care and a critical lack of access to intensive care facilities and vital equipment, like beds, oxygen compressors, and ventilators.
The prospects are horrifying.
The April 10 announcement of Hadramawt’s first confirmed coronavirus case sent shockwaves through the humanitarian community. Five years of relentlessly devastating war have dealt Yemen’s people deathly results:
- Collapsed health, water, and sanitation systems
- 14.5 million – half the population – cut off from clean water & sanitation
- Unprecedented hunger crisis:
- 16 million without daily food
- 1/3 of families with food gaps (no meat, dairy, vegetables, fruits, pulses)
- 20 million food insecure
- 2 million children under 5 acutely malnourished
- 462,000 children suffering severely acute malnutrition
- 1 million women acutely malnourished
- 1.2 million confirmed cholera cases (largest epidemic of its kind in history)
- 58 percent of cholera deaths are children
Countrywide coronavirus restrictions – and a cold-hearted $73 million USAID slash just days ago – mean these gruesome numbers will likely rise sharply. Of the U.N.’s 41 major programs in Yemen, 31 will now be shut down or cut down this month.
Yemen’s health system can in no way cope with the COVID-19 pandemic’s onslaught. It has only 700 intensive care beds, just 60 for children, and 500 ventilators in a country of 29 million.
Zakat Foundation sponsors major healthcare, food-resilience, livestock, and coop programs in Yemen, and works with select Yemeni and international humanitarian aid partners there to deliver food directly to hungry families.
This is an urgent call for sadaqah-charity and emergency food and medical equipment funding to rescue the children and people of Yemen.
Two weeks of critical food shortages brought on by national coronavirus work stoppages in Pakistan have driven the country’s 2.8 million Afghan refugees into an acute food crisis – Phase 3 in the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) system. The final phases, a grim precipice the Afghan refugees in Pakistan’s 52 camps quickly approach, are humanitarian emergency and famine.
About half these refugees have never registered for fear of deportation. Many worked for scant rupees, but that source has withered in the heat of COVID-19’s third week of forced lockdowns.
As malnutrition among the refugees skyrockets – in their massive slum settlement on Karachi’s outskirts (and in the Sindh province generally), and in the even more densely populated camps straddling war-riddled Afghanistan, in northeastern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and southwestern Balochistan provinces, where most of the undocumented refugees live – even the UNHCR, the U.N. refugee commission, has sent in medical supplies to fight the coronavirus but no food to stave off their hunger.
Zakat Foundation delivers ongoing aid to Afghan refugees, and has since the charity’s beginning. But that is not now enough for this, the second largest population of refugees in the world. April 8, Pakistan’s health ministry sounded the alarm of a coming humanitarian famine catastrophe among its Afghan refugee population.
Zakat Foundation has issued an urgent call for immediate emergency sadaqah aid to prevent starvation among Afghan refugees.
On April 9, in the face of the doubling of COVID-19 infections in Bangladesh to more than 200, the government imposed strict lockdown orders on its southern district, where camps have quarantined more than a million Rohingya, two-thirds of whom fled genocide in their Myanmar homes in September 2017, joining hundreds of thousands there from previous Buddhist Burmese ethnic cleansings.
Zakat Foundation relief and medical workers have served the refugees in the Cox’s Bazar camps district for more than a dozen years.
Zakat Foundation has rushed urgent food and medical supplies to its professionals there to help avert a dreaded coronavirus camp outbreak and still has open channels to get aid to the Rohingya. Now, the country’s refugee commission has announced that only emergency food suppliers and medical services can continue operating in the camps.
Zakat Foundation relief and healthcare workers have spent 9 years, the length of the Syrian civil war, aiding and treating the displaced among the 320 badly overcrowded camps of northwest Syria that house almost a million people. According to a just completed study, ere is one hospital bed per 2,378 people, a single ventilator for every 37,549 displaced, and a lone lab in Idlib able to perform tests.
Tests, lab equipment, beds, and ventilators are now of vital need to prepare the camps for a coronavirus outbreak. Financial aid is also vital to give displaced Syrians the means to stay in place and avoid social contact.
Severe drought and a massive locust infestation has complicated the already fraught coronavirus lockdown that Kenya has recently put in place, which the government has enforced with strict curfews that have witnessed a widespread and brutal police crackdown. People, already suffering real hunger from the parched conditions now cannot earn livelihoods when that work calls for them to violate a dusk-to-dawn curfew. Those in rural settings can no longer normally pasture animals.
Zakat Foundation’s well-established relief work in Kenya provides vital food and water assistance to hundreds of poor families, some in remote locations, to help them survive the conditions of semi-isolation and loss of income, food, and water sources. But in the face of COVID-19 and the police lockdown, Kenyans need emergency relief.
Coronavirus has reached Gaza, with 13 reported cases – all in quarantine or recovered. Miraculously, Gaza is not yet deemed a community of contagion. But should that number rise to just 100 to 150 cases, Gaza’s medical infrastructure – with its blockade enforced absolute shortage of all critical medicines, tests, lab equipment, protective gear, ventilators, and hospital beds – would be overwhelmed, according to a recent Red Cross assessment. The massive contamination of Gaza’s water for cleaning and sanitation (and even that is in short supply) dramatically compounds Gaza’s coronavirus vulnerability.
The seriousness with which Gazans have taken to coronavirus preventive measures, like social distancing in so overcrowded an area, is nothing short of admirable. But most people, impoverished by the 13-year siege they live under – cannot afford masks or other protective equipment, even for essential workers. Food, like water for drinking and cleaning, is also in critically short supply.
An outbreak of COVID-19 in Gaza would be utterly catastrophic, given the incredibly high density of its population. About 1.3 million of Gaza’s 1.8 million cramped-together people are refugees.
Zakat Foundation has served the people of Gaza for 20 years. With the presence of COVID-19 now in Gaza, Zakat Foundation is issuing an emergency call to immediately build-up the Strip’s medical capacities as quickly as possible.
In the wake of India’s New Delhi anti-Muslim rod-beating rampage last month that left more than 15,000 homeless, jobless, and penniless – and amid the coronavirus pandemic’s spread and the world’s largest lockdown – cable television shows and ever-present WhatsApp groups have become the new lethal Muslim-flogging sticks of the ruling Hindu chauvinists. They now accuse the nation’s 200,000 Muslims of deliberately introducing and spreading COVID-19 as a #CoronaJihad and #Biojihad, and call the contagion a #TablighJamatVirus.
India’s virulently anti-Muslim BJP government has just announced a free-food coronavirus relief package for the nation’s destitute and increasingly unfed poor – provided they have documents to prove legitimate native-Indian heritage, something millions of Muslims do not possess, as no such documentation really exists, except in the form of BJP government-generated rolls that deliberately exclude many Muslims. For years now, that same leadership has intensified its push to turn Muslims into an illegitimate caste of illegal aliens in their own homeland as inauthentically Indian.
This means tens of thousands of Indian Muslims, and Christian minorities, and especially its legions of stranded migrant workers from Assam, and those now dispossessed and turned out of their homes in New Delhi, desperately need food and aid.
Zakat Foundation has deep humanitarian roots in India and is mobilizing emergency food and financial relief for India’s growing hungry and destitute – Muslim, Christian, and all others, regardless of their affiliation, since an estimated more than 100 million Indians now live in food insecurity.
Serving the Stranded
With no official contingencies in place or preparation for this long-warned of but unheeded threat of contagion, the “sudden” changes brought on by the coronavirus crisis immediately plunged international students in the U.S. on F1 visas into dire straits.
Ejected from their closed-down campuses and cut off from home and resources, many virtually abandoned students have flooded Zakat Foundation with calls for rescue.
“There’s an urgent need to extend a lifeline of subsistence aid to these students, some of whom have families,” says Demir. “We need to give them the means to weather the pandemic, which could mean months. They need to eat, shelter, have access to essential mobility, and, God forbid, seek medical care, if necessary.”
Zakat Foundation’s donors and directors immediately created urgent response avenues, including essential consultation links, for the marooned students. But their need grows by the day.
Zakat Foundation has established a dedicated fund for them to support the students (and their families) for the pandemic’s duration, which will likely span months.
Ramadan: The Month of Rewards
With the blessed month of Ramadan just days away, we have every hope that the Muslim community will come together as the single Ummah it is and respond generously to those among us in such great risk and need.
We pray Ramadan fills every Muslim with a spirit of belonging to something bigger, of wanting to take it higher, to come together. One God. One Community.
Ramadan opens the believing heart, and humanity and benevolence pour out. So said the scholars of Islam before, in other words:
Generosity and deeds of good favor are highly desirable in the month of Ramadan, especially in its last ten days – so that we may be like the Prophet, on him be peace, and our forebears in faith – and because the month of Ramadan is that honored by God, such that a good deed of reward done in it is more blessed than at any other time.
That’s exactly what the Prophet’s Companions said they saw of him in Ramadan, on him be peace.
The Messenger of Allah, God bless him and grant him peace, was ever the most generous of people. Yet he was more generous than ever in Ramadan … more generous in doing good than the gusting of a giving-wind.
Let’s hope, for the sake of the coronavirus sick and starving – and our own souls – that something of that still lives in us.
Please give now to save the lives of the poor and starving