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This may be our final fight against Covid-19, but the war rages on in the world’s most fragile states

Doug Beattie


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A mother and her children wait in a health clinic in the Bondhere district of Mogadishu in May 2020. The infrastructure in Somalia is struggling to cope with COVID-19. Photo: Arete/ Ismail Taxta/ DEC

A mother and her children wait in a health clinic in the Bondhere district of Mogadishu in May 2020. The infrastructure in Somalia is struggling to cope with COVID-19. Photo: Arete/ Ismail Taxta/ DEC

Arete/Ismail Taxta/DEC

Abdel Mawla Al-Absi (6) stands in the doorway to his tent in Zaitoun Maarshurin refugee camp in Kafr Yahmoul village near Idlib, Syria. CAFOD, a member charity of the Disasters and Emergency Committee, is supporting vulnerable communities by providing water and sanitation services, toilets and handwashing stations through a local partner.

Abdel Mawla Al-Absi (6) stands in the doorway to his tent in Zaitoun Maarshurin refugee camp in Kafr Yahmoul village near Idlib, Syria. CAFOD, a member charity of the Disasters and Emergency Committee, is supporting vulnerable communities by providing water and sanitation services, toilets and handwashing stations through a local partner.

Arete / Karam Almasri / DEC

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A mother and her children wait in a health clinic in the Bondhere district of Mogadishu in May 2020. The infrastructure in Somalia is struggling to cope with COVID-19. Photo: Arete/ Ismail Taxta/ DEC

There is a sense that our struggle against Covid-19 is drawing to a close as the vaccine rolls out and we look to the pathway out of restrictions.

Despite what we have all suffered, our current position is a privilege not afforded to the millions of people in the world’s most fragile states.

A year into this crisis, states like Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen remain on a knife-edge. As Northern Ireland looks toward the reopening of society, the odds are stacked against countries made perilous by conflict, violence and climate disasters.

I witnessed first-hand the shattering impacts of war, natural disaster and grinding poverty throughout my 34 years in the military. After three tours of Afghanistan between 2006 and 2011, the brutal realities of war and the carnage it wreaked on local communities are never far from my mind.

One experience that stuck with me was the death of a young Afghan girl, fatally injured by a coalition mortar bomb, who lost her life at just six years of age. I have spoken publicly before about Shabia, how her name is imprinted upon me, a constant reminder that conflict has shattered the lives of so many.

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Abdel Mawla Al-Absi (6) stands in the doorway to his tent in Zaitoun Maarshurin refugee camp in Kafr Yahmoul village near Idlib, Syria. CAFOD, a member charity of the Disasters and Emergency Committee, is supporting vulnerable communities by providing water and sanitation services, toilets and handwashing stations through a local partner.

Abdel Mawla Al-Absi (6) stands in the doorway to his tent in Zaitoun Maarshurin refugee camp in Kafr Yahmoul village near Idlib, Syria. CAFOD, a member charity of the Disasters and Emergency Committee, is supporting vulnerable communities by providing water and sanitation services, toilets and handwashing stations through a local partner.

Arete / Karam Almasri / DEC

Abdel Mawla Al-Absi (6) stands in the doorway to his tent in Zaitoun Maarshurin refugee camp in Kafr Yahmoul village near Idlib, Syria. CAFOD, a member charity of the Disasters and Emergency Committee, is supporting vulnerable communities by providing water and sanitation services, toilets and handwashing stations through a local partner.

Sadly, violence and conflict continued in Afghanistan long after my tours were over, leaving a hopeless infrastructure in its wake. My career now is in serving the people of Northern Ireland, but the areas I once patrolled continue to deal with shattered health systems, eroded livelihoods and a lack of clean water, sanitation and medical care.

People facing hunger and displacement had already suffered so much when Covid-19 rolled in for battle. These individuals are left with little choice but to ignore the stay-at-home messages designed to keep them safe.

As humanitarian aid declines, the latest report by the Disaster’s Emergency Committee reveals states on the brink of collapse. The economic impact of the virus has left people unable to afford food and other essentials and aid workers are warning that thousands more are likely to die from hunger.

Minimal testing, stigma and fear of the virus has resulted in chronic underreporting of cases. Afghanistan, a country with a population of 40 million, carried out just 400 tests per day throughout November, a futile struggle against a raging enemy.

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Thanks to the generosity of the UK public, the DEC has raised over £38 million through the ongoing Coronavirus Appeal. As humanitarian aid declines, however, aid workers fear the worst is yet to come.

It is estimated that 235 million people globally will need humanitarian assistance to survive this year, a 40% increase almost entirely down to Covid-19. This is where we, as citizens preparing to regain our lives, have a responsibility not to leave our comrades in the world’s weakest states behind.

With a glimmer of hope in Northern Ireland, we must give what we can to stand by the world’s poorest countries in their darkest hour of need.

Doug Beattie is the Ulster Unionist MLA for Upper Bann

Belfast Telegraph


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