Disabled fall through the cracks of war (Afghanistan)


War-related injuries account for about 17 per cent of Afghanistan's 747,000 to 867,000 disabled people, according to a report released by Handicapped International. In 2005, the NGO reported that at least 2.7 per cent of the population had "severe difficulties in everyday functioning," a number that has likely risen since then.


(09.05.2007)

When the U.S.-led bombing of Afghanistan began in the winter of 2001, Shawzia, now 25, was in the living room with her father and sister. She remembers hearing a plane rumble overhead before the bombs began to fall.
Shawzia's father and one sister died instantly, but she survived. Her face was completely disfigured and over the months that followed, she began to lose her sight. Today, Shawzia is almost blind. The right side of her face has ballooned and slowly begun to encroach on the left side of her face. She is in constant pain.
"I would be happy today if she had also died," says Modira, Shawzia's mother, as she sits beside her disabled daughter. Shawzia, too, says she often wishes herself dead. When she walks down the street, people call her names and laugh at her. Her mother, a widow in a patriarchal culture, feels like one of many Afghan women left to pick up the pieces in a place with few services for the disabled.
War-related injuries account for about 17 per cent of Afghanistan's 747,000 to 867,000 disabled people, according to a report released by Handicapped International. In 2005, the NGO reported that at least 2.7 per cent of the population had "severe difficulties in everyday functioning," a number that has likely risen since then.
The Ministry of Martyrs and Disabled (recently renamed the Ministry of Social Labour, Martyrs and Disabled), makes a distinction between people disabled in war -- by land mines or cluster bombs or in fighting -- and those with congenital disabilities. Only war victims receive a meagre pension from the ministry.
"Part of the problem is even the government's mentality is that war victims are special because they have sacrificed their lives for a cause, and others are disabled because God does not like them," says Afghan Disabled Union's Omara Khan.
The stigma also means many disabled Afghans live in virtual isolation, cut off from society and unable to integrate.
"Civil society doesn't really exist here. Most of the services provided here are pretty basic or non-existent. Everything is new or has recently been set up," says Arnaud Quemin, field program director for Handicapped International.
A number of international aid groups provide assistance in Kabul, although in rural Afghanistan, there is nothing. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been running a rehabilitation centre for the past 15 years, providing prosthetics and other services. Handicapped International helps run a Community Centre for the Disabled in Kabul's Karta Sei district.
Saifuddin Nezami, the director at the centre, said he sees hundreds of people who feel hopeless. "A man came to me yesterday," he said. "He told me, his wife had kicked him out. She told him, 'You are not able to bring me any money or any food. What is the difference between you and me? You are a nuisance. Please leave the house.' The man was desperate. He said, 'Please help me. Or I will take some fuel and burn myself.' "
The stigma in a country where one in ever five families has a disabled person is part of the problem. "If there is a disabled child in the house, the opportunities for schooling, for training and for anything else go to the non-disabled child," says Tina Singleton, Handicapped International's project manager at the community centre.
"In the Ministry of Works and Public Affairs there is a rule that says that anyone who is disabled more than 60 per cent does not have the right to work in government." Mr. Nezami looks at his leg, severed above the knee. "I don't have the right to work in government."
More than 70 per cent of disabled children cannot go to school, Mr. Nezami says. "Disability doesn't mean inability," says Mr. Nezami, whose centre has trained a good number of disabled people and found jobs for them. "But, in our country, they are not allowed to take part in society. So, a kind of grudge is created in their heart."

Von: Sonya Fatah http://www.theglobeandmail.com/ 10.05.2007

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