“Winter is coming.”
It’s like that Ammar Ammar, Spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan, describes the situation in Afghanistan. The current food crisis, the result of the collapsing economy and drought, will only get worse if the country does not receive aid, he says, especially during the colder months when people have to also stay warm.
“It’s not Game of Thrones here, it’s reality.”
Nearly a year after the Taliban took over Afghanistan, the world has fallen silent about the plight of the country and its people, who are facing one of their worst humanitarian and economic crises in decades.
After the fall of Kabul, the international community refused to recognize the Taliban regime. Countries have suspended foreign aid and imposed sanctions. The United States has also frozen billions in Afghan state assets.
A country that had become dependent on foreign aid was left to fend for itself. In the process, millions of Afghans were also left behind.
During a recent lunch break in Kabul, Ammar saw two girls, one about six years old and the other about three years old. One of them was lying on the sidewalk, while the other was squatting next to a large nylon bag. They had picked up pieces of scrap metal from the streets to make ends meet.
“You could see they were exhausted,” Ammar said. “You’re going to take your break and at the same time you can see two kids on the street, where they don’t have a break at that age. It hits you.
And there are thousands of children like them.
“We are doing a huge job,” Ammar says. “But the sad reality is that we can’t help everyone in the end.”
A woman from Qala-e-Naw, the capital of Badghis province, recently told the UN-run World Food Program (WFP) in Kabul how she managed to make ends meet after her husband died five years before.
“In the past, she says, she led a passable life, content to do housework and laundry for others. After the economy collapsed, families have run out of money to pay her and her work has dried up,” WFP spokesman Philippe Kropf said in an email. As a result, she borrows money to buy food, getting further into debt.
“She told me she hadn’t been able to buy cooking oil for weeks. She eats bread with tea and sometimes rice,” he said.
A young man told Kropf that “his family has gone to sleep several nights with nothing to eat for the past few months.”
“They have borrowed food from neighbors, but more and more the neighbors have nothing to share,” he added, noting that the young man had only finished the second year and was trying to find jobs to make ends meet. “But those jobs are becoming increasingly scarce because of the collapsing economy as well.”
The man took part in a training program to learn skills such as sewing or repairing mobile phones to earn a living. The program trains 200 men and women for six months, during which participants receive food assistance for their families.
“After the training, (the young man) hopes to either open his own small shop, sewing clothes for men and children, or find work in a tailor’s shop and work for a salary,” Kropf said.
Prospects of famine remain
As the country reels from recent droughts and faces high inflation, a difficult situation is getting worse.
“For the first time, urban residents are suffering from food insecurity at rates similar to those in rural communities, marking the changing face of hunger in the country,” Kropf said, noting that some people are asking for help from the WFP. for the first time in their life.
“The scale of the crisis in Afghanistan is immense and the needs continue to outstrip available funding,” he added. WFP needs nearly US$1 billion by the end of 2022 to help 18 million people, nearly half of Afghanistan’s population.
Of this amount, the group urgently needs US$172 million to secure 150,000 metric tons of food to support 2.2 million people in remote parts of Afghanistan, which can be cut off by ice and snow in winter.
“We need it even more urgently because of the long lead times for food products that we have to buy internationally,” Kropf said, including vegetable oil and specialty nutritious foods. “We have to get them into (the) country and then drive them into the mountains.”
Lack of funds in state bank accounts means civil servants aren’t paid regularly, businesses close, and ordinary civilians face restricted access to their own savings.
The prospect of famine remains, Ammar said, noting that the main indicator is agriculture, which most people depend on to make ends meet. Farmers say climate change is causing food production to decline, resulting in prolonged periods when people do not have adequate access to food.
Need for international help
At the end of June, a magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck southeastern Afghanistan, killing more than 1,000 people and causing damage described as “catastrophic” by the International Rescue Committee.
“This earthquake is a disaster for those affected, but the response to the broader crisis in Afghanistan remains a disaster of choice for the international community,” said David Miliband, CEO and Chairman of the group in a statement to the era.
“While humanitarian aid has averted starvation for now, policies of economic isolation, cuts in development funding and lack of support for Afghan officials are destroying the two decades of development progress that Western leaders pledged to protect.”
He noted that families across the country are facing unemployment, leading to lower demand among local businesses, which in turn leads to further job losses. He called on the international community to urgently provide funds to the country as well as the “gradual and closely monitored unfreezing of assets”.
The issue of frozen assets
Afghanistan advocates have criticized the US decision to freeze some of the country’s assets and denounced a US proposal to use some of them to support families affected by 9/11.
Afghanistan’s assets rightfully belong to Afghanistan, said Zubair Iqbal, a researcher at the Middle East Institute in Washington.
However, while unfreezing funds would help provide immediate relief to ease the Afghan crisis, the country will need more long-term support, said Iqbal, who previously worked at the International Monetary Fund for more than 30 years.
The solution is to provide foreign aid to Afghanistan in a sustainable way to enable recovery, while managing its spending through an independent entity, he said.
Concerns over a US proposal to use some Afghan assets to support families affected by 9/11 prompted a group of Afghan women to write an open letter to US President Joe Biden in February.
“Taking funds from the people of Afghanistan is the nastiest and most inappropriate response for a country going through the worst humanitarian crisis in its history,” the letter read. “It’s the pressure of an injured hand.”
Freezing the Taliban’s assets was the right decision, one of the signatories said in an interview, but they belong to the Afghan people and must be released to deal with the humanitarian crisis.
“I expect the international community to pay serious attention to Afghanistan,” said Roshan Mashal, former deputy director of the Afghan Women’s Network, who left Afghanistan after the takeover and is now a scholarship recipient. at the University of Texas at Arlington.
She called for coordination on how countries engage with the Taliban and support the people of the country as millions of Afghans face hunger and economic crisis.
“Don’t forget them,” she said.