Wednesday, 22 May, 2024

Rural Afghanistan may not get through the winter if help doesn’t arrive

The country’s drought-hit regions are most vulnerable to the hunger crisis. Experts say only large-scale aid from global powers can help Afghans get through the winter.

It is a sunny day in Akhunzada Kala village of Laghman, a province known for its lush green landscape in eastern Afghanistan around 150 kilometres away from Kabul.

Ghulam Omar, a retired colonel, lay down on the traditional charpoy under the berry trees in the middle of rice fields on one late September afternoon. He holds his Sony handy radio high as he is focused on listening to the news.

The radio program host is discussing the worsening economic situation in the country after the Taliban came into power. Other lingering issues such as the controversial appointment of the Kabul University chancellor and the alleged banning of girls’ education by the Taliban are also debated on the program.

As the news ended, he put the radio set under his pillow. He was already surrounded by people who were keen on having a follow-up discussion. I intervened and asked him what the Taliban’s takeover meant for him.

“The best thing about Taliban’s rule, so far, is that the ongoing conflict has reached an end,” he said with an optimistic smile on his face. “We were losing more than a hundred humans every day.”

Laghman has seen little development during the past 20 years of the US presence. Most people in the province remain poor.

Basic services such as education, healthcare, shelter, food and safe drinking water are still inaccessible by many households across the province.

The security situation in the eastern province has not improved much as the province was long contested with a strong Taliban presence. In the course of time, only two of the province's seven districts were reachable without major security risk.

I asked again if it makes him worried that the financial condition of the country is getting worse day by day since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.

“It is going to affect everyone,” he responded.

“They (Taliban) will have to work together with all Afghans to ensure international support to the new government.”

He emphasized that the Taliban will be able to run the government and help the people of Afghanistan only if donor countries continue to provide financial support. “If the Taliban cannot convince the assisting countries, they will be sidelined by the world once again.”

If this happens, he says, “they (Taliban) will not be able to pay the salary of their own fighters”.

Gul Hussain, a 38-year-old farmer from the neighbouring Lara Mora village, called me for a cup of tea as he began to work in his field. I sat down on the edge of his farm and watched him collect ladyfingers from the field.

I asked him if the vegetables make a good income. “It is not much,” he said. “The work I put in growing the vegetables goes wasted sometimes.”

Often, the crops don’t even cover the expenses.

It is the vegetable season in Laghman. The income from selling vegetables in Gul Hussain’s fields is enough only for his day-to-day expenses because the prices of vegetables are quite low.

There is no market for vegetables. Thus, the farmer makes the least benefit from it.

“I don’t take the vegetables to Kabul because they cannot make adequate money to cover the vehicle’s rent and other expenses,” Gul Hussain told TRT World.

The frustrated farmer has started construction work at his family house after he got separated from his brothers. However, he currently doesn’t have the money to complete the construction work.

“I am planning to go to Kabul and ask a few people to lend me some money but I am not sure if they will because everyone is facing financial difficulties right now.”

Mohbiullah Sobman is a primary school principal in the nearby Kamalpur Bazar. He took me on a tour to his school where less than half students are present 20 days after the start of the academic year and several classes are held in the open or under a tree. Students of one class sat under the shadow of a wall.

Several classes didn’t have any teachers and were managed by one teacher with a stick in his hand who would run after students if they tried to come out.

The school’s principal told me that many teachers don’t come to school because they have not received their salary for two months now.

The only male doctor in the area also doesn't come to the basic clinic frequently since he is not sure whether he will be paid any salary by the new government. The clinic is already out of medicine.

A woman holds one of her two babies undergoing treatment at the malnutrition ward of the Indira Gandhi Children's Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021.
A woman holds one of her two babies undergoing treatment at the malnutrition ward of the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (AP)

Sobman recently opened a private school for the area’s children as he thought the quality of education in public schools is not good enough. However, the only private school in the region is facing an uncertain future after the declining economic condition.

“A lot of people promised to enrol their children in the private school,” Sobman told TRT World. “Now, many of them are either not sending their children at all or they are sending only one student from the family.”

The school is currently teaching a dozen students.

Sobman’s school charges the lowest fee in the district and across the province but students’ parents and elders recently asked him in a meeting to give further discounts to the students.

Torek Farhadi, an expert on the Afghan economy and former advisor to the International Monetary Fund and the UN, says a severe crisis is inevitable if international aid doesn't arrive by winter.

"Afghanistan is already at a crisis point with regards to food insecurity. Donors are aware and worried. Now the US also has agreed to join the EU in funding humanitarian and food assistance, we hope that this support will arrive before winter to avoid an acute crisis."

On top of an already worsening humanitarian situation, a dreadful drought is threatening the lives of more than seven million Afghans. "Drought-hit provinces are most at risk of poverty and hunger," Farhadi said.

"Taliban should come closer to the conditionalities posed by the donors in order for humanitarian aid flows to reach prior levels."

As I spent some time in one of the bazaar's shops, the shopkeeper, 37-year-old Rohullah, told me that he waits for hours for someone to visit his shop.

The prices of essential food items are going higher. A bag of 50-kilo wheat costs 2,300 Afghanis ($25) while it was 1,800 a month ago. The price of 10-kilo cooking oil rose from around 1,000 Afghanis to 1,400 Afghanis in one and half months.

With winter approaching, the people in this region, like millions of others across Afghanistan, will face a dire situation if things continue in a similar way.

At present, 1 in 3 Afghans is acutely hungry, according to the latest World Food Programme (WFP) survey, and Over 93 per cent of households are consuming insufficient food.

If adequate humanitarian aid doesn’t reach Afghanistan at the earliest, around 35 million Afghans will be at risk of extreme poverty and starvation not too long from now.

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