Support to the National Response to contain the impact of COVID-19

Situational Analysis

Although Afghanistan is still in the ‘Pre-Surge’ phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) sources, the country has a low level of preparedness in relation to the level of response that is likely to be required. As as of 2:00pm, 28 May 2020, according to the MoPH, a total of 13,036 confirmed cases out of 34,936 samples tested have been reported in 33 provinces of Afghanistan. The country is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to the limited availability of properly equipped medical facilities, inadequate numbers of trained medical personnel, the damaging effect of 40 years of war on social capital at the community level, a large influx of returnees from Iran and Pakistan during recent months, and the lack of resources to support local government in taking the action needed. 

The danger posed by COVID-19 in Afghanistan has been exacerbated as recent returnees entered communities from the Islām Qala (Herat), Torkham (Nangarhar), and Chaman (Kandahar) border areas, without being properly quarantined. With the lack of testing kits and facilities, and challenges with screening, contact tracing, containment, and quarantine; the current Pre-Surge (a small number of reported cases) will quickly move towards the Surge phase when the number of new infections starts to rise exponentially.

The COVID-19 threat has further exacerbated the socio-economic crisis in the country.  Poverty is expected to remain high, driven by weak labor demand and security-related constraints on service delivery. Furthermore, 67 percent of non-agricultural jobs are in a vulnerable employment category. In the aftermath of the drought of 2018, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to contribute to a contraction in the economy of up to four percent in 2020.

Areas of intervention

UNDP is working in close coordination with WHO, OCHA and other UN agencies and international partners to support the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GoIRA) to tackle the COVID-19 crisis in the country. In response to the GoIRA’s request to development partners, UNDP have had to rethink our programmes and responses; reprogramming existing projects, shaping new responses and integrating with our UN system to coordinate closely across the health – humanitarian – development nexus:

UNDP is working with WHO and other UN agencies and international partners to help the Government of Afghanistan as per the following strategy:

Inclusive and integrated Crisis Management and Response

UNDP COVID-19 responses are in line with three major plans developed locally and globally, the UN COVID-19 Multi-Sector Humanitarian Country Plan for Afghanistan; the MoPHs National Emergency Response Plan for Coronavirus 2020; and the Global Humanitarian Response Plan COVID-19. As per the UN COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan, UNDP will apply inclusive, integrated crisis management and response in Pre-Surge, Surge, and Recovery areas. Under the Pre-Surge phase, UNDP has begun to repurpose and mobilise funding to support the initial national response, prevention and mitigation activities and to prepare the way for longer-term development interventions in subsequent phases. UNDPs proposed interventions seek to complement the humanitarian and emergency health interventions by working with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and ILO to develop a response strategy for protecting people’s livelihoods, address social cohesion issues through targeted communication and wider efforts to build community resilience; build the capacity of the Government to respond in an integrated manner across sectors, including health and security; and continue to enhance the capacities of local government institutions. In alignment with the UN Framework for the Immediate Socio-Economic Response to COVID-19, UNDP is preparing for our anticipated role as the technical lead for socio-economic response, under the leadership of the UN Resident Coordinators Office (RCO). The development trajectory of Afghanistan in the long-term will be affected by the choices made now and the support received. As the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) integrator and leading UN development agency; UNDPs mandate positions us to best guide the socio-economic development response to complement the humanitarian and emergency health interventions. UNDP are initiating broader development-oriented interventions, including socio-economic interventions to minimise recovery time and build resilience, longer-term governance activities designed to improve local-level service delivery, and Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) modeling to generate socio-economic forecasts on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.


Health System's and Procurement Support

UNDP is working with WHO and other UN agencies and international partners to help the GoIRA to strengthen the First Line of Defense and Enhancing Health Sector Responses Procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and health supplies. UNDP is supporting the establishment of 22 fixed health centres and 10 mobile health teams. The goal of these teams is to establish a surveillance system by expanding prevention diagnosis and management services. Already, UNDP, with financial support from the Global Fund, has assisted the MoPH to strengthen the capacity of the laboratory sector at the Central Public Health Laboratory (CPHL) and within regional reference laboratories and provincial diagnostics settings, and provided technical assistance to train 25 regional and provincial laboratory staff in the use of sophisticated high-tech machines. With the investments made so far, the CPHL has the capacity to process 200-300 samples in 24 hours in addition to the regional daily testing capacity of 150 in Herat, 100 in Balkh, 100-150 in Nangarhar and 120-150 in Kandahar province. In addition to supporting the frontline health workers; UNDP, in partnership with Ministry of Interior Affairs (MoIA), are operationalising five new hospital facilities to quarantine / isolate and treat affected Afghan National Police (ANP) personnel. Hospitals will have approx. 300 beds with quarantine facilities and ICUs across five provinces: Herat (100 beds), Balkh (50 beds), Nangarhar (50 beds), Helmand (50 beds) and Paktiya (50 beds) and will be supported through procurement of health equipment and medical supplies. This work will provide essential infrastructure capacities, and related essential kits/equipment to improve MoIA and ANP preparedness to receive and treat police (and potentially public) infected with COVID-19. To further support police and security personnel on the frontline, UNDP is supporting the procurement of protective and sanitary kits, including, but not limited to hand sanitizers, rubber gloves, face masks and other protective gear and equipment to be disseminated to those medical and police frontline workers.

Address Knowledge, Data Gaps and Public Communication

In accordance with the COVID-19 Risk Reduction and Community Engagement (RCCE) working group’s terms of reference, and in alignment to the strategic level communication strategy developed through the RCCE; UNDP will focus on information and knowledge-sharing, and civic education through integrated information management, communication, and dissemination to those left furthest behind in terms of communication, particularly to those who are illiterate and those who lack access to technology. UNDP has active social media platforms and various online digital tools, and will work through established UNDP projects, including the Local Governance (LoGo) project to disseminate WHO and MoPH messaging as far and wide as possible. Working in partnership with other UN agencies allows for a coordinated approach towards a collective communication campaign to develop public knowledge and challenge attitudes and perceptions about COVID-19, targeting the most at risk and vulnerable populations. UNDP will review our communication patterns and channels, and act as a platform for inclusive public communication messaging in all local languages which considers religious, cultural and societal norms and expectations.

Enhanced National Institutional Responses to Service Delivery

UNDP will build the capacity of the GoIRA to respond in an integrated manner across sectors by promoting a whole-of-government and a whole-of-society approach. To this end, UNDP will provide support in strengthening local government organisations to deliver services during the COVID-19 pandemic and is well positioned to do this as through the LoGo project, already working in close coordination with the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) in 13 provinces and 22 municipalities. To build the capacity of local governments to deliver effective and accountable services to the citizens, UNDP will continue to enhance the capacities of local government institutions, but will refocus on supporting rapid response, prevention and mitigation activities during the COVID-19 crisis. The sorts of activities being promoted may include the construction of health posts, transit centres for returnees, and other infrastructure that is needed. In addition, UNDP’s Economic Transformation for All (ET4A) Programme will direct its efforts to advise the government on how best to coordinate fiscal and monetary policies between the public and private sectors. It will pay particular attention to the expansion of connectivity so as to bring technological solutions to the immediate challenges. Lastly, the ET4A programme will also look at options for creating a sound business environment and for investment in value chains, in particular, to keep medium and small companies working.

Socio-economic impact and 
needs assessment

COVID-19 has been identified by the WHO as a global health pandemic, with the ILO stating "COVID-19 is no longer only a global health crisis; it is also a major labour market and economic crisis that is having a huge impact on people." Afghanistan is particularly vulnerable to the economic, social and environmental impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic due to the damaging effect of 40 years of war on social capital at the community level. It seems clear then that in the context of an already weak economy, the economic fallout from the current health crisis will negatively affect people’s livelihoods, with the disadvantaged suffering the most. UNDP have developed a proposal to support the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MoLSA) and ILO on a response strategy for protecting people’s livelihoods. UNDP will be supporting to undertake socio-economic impact assessments for important sectors by conducting a micro-level socio-economic survey starting with the returnees and hosting communities at the border areas with Pakistan and Iran to document how people are experiencing and responding to the COVID-19 crisis. To this regard, GoIRA have also requested support in creating electronic social registers for recent returnees to Pakistan for future economic recovery assistance. UNDP will carry out market emergency market labor assessment for the COVID-19 context, with the existing Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) economic models used to generate socio-economic forecasts on the impacts of the COVID crisis. UNDP also plans to implement stimulus packages for identified Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) or Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs).

Financial Resources

With the UNDP Afghanistan COVID-19 Programme Development package near finalization; UNDP is looking into re-prioritizing and re-programming its regular financial resources for COVID-19 response related work and working at a global level to mobilize additional funding for its response and support program for recovery.


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