Afghans get $540m to bolster pandemic fight

A woman receives free bread from the municipality outside a bakery Thursday during the holy month of Ramadan in locked down Kabul. (AFP)
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Updated 01 May 2020

Afghans get $540m to bolster pandemic fight

  • Global pledges as anger grows over Kabul’s response to virus

KABUL: Afghanistan has been offered $540 million in grants and interest-free loans by international finance institutions to help the war-ravaged country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

The global pledges come amid growing public anger at the government’s handling of the outbreak and claims of widespread misappropriation of health funds.

Ministry of Finance spokesman Shamrooz Khan Masjidi told Arab News on Thursday that the EU has offered $119 million, the World Bank $100 million and the Asian Development Bank $40 million, while the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved an interest-free loan of $220 million to bolster Afghanistan’s pandemic response.

“This is a good step. The money will help the fight against the coronavirus and strengthen the country’s economic stability,” he said.

Masjidi said that the government will focus on addressing the health emergency and supporting people whose livelihoods have been affected by the pandemic.

According to the IMF, Afghanistan faces mounting problems as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, with the country’s economy expected to contract sharply this year, “threatening the livelihood of a significant segment of the population.”

The promised international assistance is about 250 times greater than Afghanistan’s annual health care budget of $2.1 million.

HIGHLIGHT

The government will focus on addressing the health emergency and supporting people whose livelihoods have been affected by the pandemic.

After six weeks in lockdown, residents in Kabul and Jalalabad have started to ignore coronavirus restrictions and criticize the government’s response, saying that the virus “might not kill them, but hunger will.”

Thousands protested in Jalalabad on Thursday, accusing officials of corruption and failing to help those affected by the pandemic.

In Kabul, during a press conference with national medical representatives, members of the Senate sent a complaint to the Attorney General’s Office criticizing Health Minister Ferozuddin Feroz and presidential adviser Waheed Omar, director general of the Office of Public and Strategic Affairs.

The two officials were accused of “serious shortcomings” in handling the coronavirus outbreak, mismanagement of food deliveries to people affected by lockdowns, and corruption in buying medical equipment.

Neither was available for comment.

Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan government and IMF adviser, said that corruption is a growing concern in aid expenditure.

“Afghanistan ranks 173 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s corruption perception index, which means it is perceived as one of the most corrupt in the world,” he told Arab News.


UK relatives of Daesh ‘Beatles’ victims relieved as trial nears

Updated 49 min 13 sec ago

UK relatives of Daesh ‘Beatles’ victims relieved as trial nears

  • The evidence regarding El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey was transferred to Washington immediately after Tuesday’s court ruling
  • The pair, who have been stripped of UK citizenship, are in the custody of US forces in Iraq

LONDON: Relatives of two Britons killed by a Daesh cell on Wednesday welcomed a breakthrough that advances the US trial of two Londoners accused of their brutal deaths.
The families of Alan Henning and David Haines said a ruling by the London High Court permitting the UK government to share evidence with US authorities about the suspects was a “huge result for us.”
“We have only ever wanted to see these two men being held accountable and brought to justice through a fair trial for their alleged actions,” they said in a statement released by the charity Hostage International.
The evidence regarding El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey was transferred to Washington immediately after Tuesday’s court ruling.
The pair, who have been stripped of UK citizenship, are in the custody of US forces in Iraq.
Kotey and Elsheikh’s four-member cell was dubbed “the Beatles” by their captives due to their English accents. They are accused of torturing and killing victims, including by beheading, and Daesh released videos of the deaths for propaganda purposes.
A two-year legal impasse concerning the suspects was broken last month when Attorney General Bill Barr said they would be spared execution if convicted after trial in the United States.
The United States wants to try them for the murder of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and aid worker Peter Kassig, during 2014-2015.
Taxi driver Henning and former aircraft engineer Haines, who had both gone to Syria to do aid work, were beheaded in 2014.
Another of the cell’s alleged victims was British photojournalist John Cantlie, who was kidnapped in Syria in 2012 and remains missing.
Cantlie’s sister Jessica Pocock told of the relatives’ intense frustration at the long legal wait.
“At times we felt absolutely desperate as to whether the legal system was ever going to be able to bring these two to justice — wherever they may be,” she told BBC radio.
“That was always terribly important to us to have a proper, fair trial. The families need nothing less than a fair trial,” she said.
The US Department of Justice welcomed the court ruling and expressed gratitude to Britain for transferring the evidence, although a trial date has yet to be set.