Afghanistan‘s economy is on the edge of the abyss. When the Taliban seized power in August, virtually all development aid was halted, and more than $9 billion in international bank balances were frozen. About 98 percent of Afghans eat too little, warns the UN World Food Program (WFP).
In a suburb of Kabul, the WFP distributs food. A bag of flour, a bag of lentils, a bottle of oil and salt.
A tall man of about fifty years old wavers, leans against the wall and grabs at his head. “I’m not feeling well,” he says, introducing himself as Ghulam Muhauddin. Soon his whole story comes out. “I was a helicopter pilot, and then worked for the presidential palace.” On his phone, he shows old photos and images of cards and certificates. “My daughter was a journalist and my wife teacher. We‘re all unemployed now.”
Asking for help every day
meantime, an elderly woman is waving a pass enraged. The employee at the door tries to calm her down, but it doesn’t work out. The woman almost knocks the employee over and continues to shout until two armed Talibs are brought in.
“She says she‘s a widow, and she also needs food help,” says distribution coordinator, Mustafa Aidery. “She’s not on the list. That‘s why she thinks that list has been shamed. But we just don’t have enough.”
He explains that around 8,000 families were allowed to be selected in that neighborhood. That‘s done by going door to door. “But there are far more poor families than that. Everyone has lost their work. So they come here every day to ask for help and eat.”
Until the Taliban took power on 15 August, around 80 percent of the Afghan economy operated with foreign aid money that is now out of place. Due to sanctions against the Taliban regime, funds on foreign banks are frozen, international transactions are impossible, and donors are wary.
As a result, almost every Afghan has significantly less or even no income left. People who have a lot of money in the bank can’t access it. “I can take up to 5000 Afghani (40 euros) a day,” says a man standing in front of the ATM in a long line. “I come every day. I have a family of twelve people who depend on my income.”
Because less money is in circulation, entrepreneurs also have fewer customers. Meanwhile, food and fuel prices are rising.
“Our local staff, who have been working in Afghanistan for years, say it has never been as bad as it is today,” says Necephor Mghendi, head of the International Red Cross in Afghanistan. “People had already been affected by the years of conflict, a severe drought this year and the pandemic. But now many more people are completely out of support, and depend on food aid. Afghans abroad are also no longer able to send their families money here.”
Mghendi says that employees in several provinces are seeing an increase in the number of malnourished children. But the Red Cross in Afghanistan is now also getting fewer donations.
“With IFRC, we made a modest call for 36 million Swiss Franc (34.5 million euros), but we were only able to raise 15% of that, and we have all spent that already. Donors are not supporting Afghanistan now or want to attach conditions to support. But humanitarian support should be provided to everyone and be separated from politics.”
“Aid organizations cannot replace the state”
Abdul Rahman Habib, press officer of the Ministry of Economy, also says this. “The US and other Western countries are engaged in politics. But these are humanitarian issues.”
Last week, it was announced that the World Bank will be transferring 280 million dollars (247 million euros) from the reconstruction fund for Afghanistan this year. This money goes to the WFP and UNICEF, both from the UN, and is intended for food and medical assistance.
It‘s not enough, says Mghendi of the Red Cross. “We as aid organizations cannot replace the state. We need to find ways to work with the state, regardless of politics. We must make a joint effort to ensure that the state can provide basic services. And for that, they need to be able to access their money.”
Ghulam Muhauddin, the former helicopter pilot, walks away from the food distribution with a wheelbarrow full of flour, lentils, oil and salt. He shares his email address, and asks what so many Afghans are asking. “Can you help us? We don’t have a life here anymore.”