Poverty in Afghanistan under Taliban rule is ‘unbelievable and indescribable’, warns charity

·4 min read
A severely malnourished child with kwashiorkor lies on the floor at the Indira Ghandi children's hospital in Kabul - Simon Townsley/The Telegraph
A severely malnourished child with kwashiorkor lies on the floor at the Indira Ghandi children's hospital in Kabul - Simon Townsley/The Telegraph

There are days when Gul Pari and her 11 children have nothing to eat at all.

Her family's life can be an all consuming quest to earn, borrow or beg small sums for oil, vegetables and rice, but sometimes they fail.

“My children are always famished because we can’t have regular meals,” she said outside her tiny house near the Kunar river in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar.

“There are days we have no food at home and that my starving children would cry until they go to sleep.

“During this winter, my children always cried and asked me when we will be saved from this miserable life of hunger and never having anything to eat.”

Burqa-clad women wait in front of a bakery in Kabul for donations of bread - BULENT KILIC/AFP via Getty Images
Burqa-clad women wait in front of a bakery in Kabul for donations of bread - BULENT KILIC/AFP via Getty Images

It is a picture repeated across Afghanistan where in the year since the Taliban takeover, the country has faced “near universal poverty” leading aid charities have warned this week.

The 12 months since the Taliban ousted Ashraf Ghani's government and revived their Islamic Emirate of the 1990s have seen what was already one of the world's poorest nations slip into economic meltdown.

The suspension of foreign aid to the government and the paralysis of the banking sector by sanctions have contributed to a humanitarian crisis where 95 per cent of Afghans do not have enough to eat.

‘Not even a penny’ for rice

Ms Pari, aged 50, was abandoned by her husband before the Taliban victory and has had to raise her children herself in the eastern province of Nangarhar. Her eldest son earned a modest wage as a policeman until Mr Ghani's government collapsed in August 2021.

She said: “When my son was in the government, we could afford household necessities as food was cheaper. But now, we have nothing, not even a penny to purchase some rice.”

The threat of Taliban reprisal attacks has added to the family's stress. Every time her son leaves the house she is worried he may be killed because of his former job in the police.

A child uses a wrench as he scavenges for scrap metal in Kabul - DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images
A child uses a wrench as he scavenges for scrap metal in Kabul - DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images

The crisis has hit the vulnerable hardest. Widows, the disabled and the sick as well as women in general are finding it particularly hard to cope, aid agencies say.

Qaisi Gul, a 40-year-old widow in the Kabul neighbourhood of Yusuf Bangi lost her husband in a suicide bombing in early 2021.

“After that tragedy, my life was shattered and I lost the little hope I had. I have been living a miserable life for more than a year,” she said.

“We don’t have money to buy food on a daily basis. I and my children survive only with little food aid that the village representative provides us from his personal expense.”

Aid agencies say desperation has led to an increase in cases of parents deciding to sell children into marriage, or people selling kidneys in the black market organ transplant trade.

“This kind of poverty is something unbelievable and indescribable,” said Subrata De, Afghanistan manager of the UK charity Christian Aid. “When a father is supposed to choose one of his sons or daughters to sell, what goes through their mind?”

He went on: “In terms of humanitarian disasters, Afghanistan was never a good place, it was always very, very challenging. After the Taliban came into power, the situation has become much worse, but it was not that before it was actually very good.”

Starvation last winter was for many only avoided with the help of international humanitarian charities, but a United Nations appeal to keep the food flowing is only 39 per cent funded.

The Taliban blame international sanctions for the crisis and have demanded the unfreezing of billions in foreign reserves which are being held by the United States. Yet the former insurgents appear to have little idea how to revive the economy and are filling ministries with clerics and former fighters as technocrats from the former government flee.

A coalition of 32 aid charities earlier this week called on governments to keep funding Afghan government services such as the health service and try to get the country's central bank back on its feet as a first step to reviving the economy. They also called for governments to properly fund the UN's humanitarian appeal.

A joint statement from the charities said they were calling for “an urgent injection of funding, for both humanitarian and longer-term development assistance”.

“Furthermore, concerted action is needed to resolve the country’s deepening economic crisis, which is now the primary driver of food insecurity in the country and continues to impede the humanitarian response.”

Ms Pari says she and others like her are living on almost nothing. The strain is contributing the poor health.

“Stress and pressure is wearing me down and I am always having nervous breakdowns. I don’t know how long I can continue under this trauma.”

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