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Harsh Winter Fueling Persistent Humanitarian Crisis in Afghanistan

[Islamabad] “We never thought that we would see such a bad day in our lives. We have been unable to give our children enough food for the last three months,” Gul Zareen Khan, a Kabul-based former shop owner told The Media Line.

Kahn and his wife, Farzana Bibi, are one of the families that were internally displaced in October 2021 following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, and now they are residing in a shelter on the outskirts of the capital.

Kahn, 48, told The Media Line that he had maintained a general store in Kabul city, but due to financial problems, which were exacerbated after the Taliban took over in August, he lost everything. He said that the family even sold their household items in order to keep food in their kitchen.

A temporary aid camp has been established in the province of Maidan Wardak, about 50 miles west of Kabul.

The couple is facing day-to-day trouble due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

“Financial conditions were not so good even before the Taliban takeover, but our children were going to school, and the rest of life was almost normal,” Kahn said. “I was unable to pay house rent and other utility bills so we took refuge in a mini-shelter camp outside the city.”

Farzana Bibi Kahn told The Media Line that both of the couple’s children are selling corn and boiled eggs on the streets near the camp. “But it is not enough to survive,” she said. “There is no work, everything is stalled, and we have never seen before such starvation, lack of jobs, and lack of necessities.”

“It looks like we have a nightmare that never ends,” she said.

Another Afghan woman, Kulsoom Jan, 39, who fled her native area of Jaghori in the Ghazni province, is currently residing in a refugee camp near Quetta, the provincial capital and largest city of the Pakistani province of Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan. She is a widow with three young daughters.

Jan used to earn a small amount of money by cutting bushes and grass from the land near her home, but due to the financial crisis, the landlord fired her.

“I had nothing to feed my daughters, I feared that I would have to go out to beg; meanwhile, our 65-year-old landlord wanted to forcibly marry my 17-year-old daughter,” Jan told The Media Line. “In such a scary situation, I decided to sell my remaining possessions and silently escape; at least my daughters are safe here.”

Jan said, “Parents are being forced by poverty and hunger to sell their innocent daughters to old men,” and that she knows many families who have done so.

There is a severe shortage of food, lack of medicines, lack of heating appliances, shelters for internally displaced persons, and the unemployment crisis; meanwhile, mental security is the grimmest disaster

As the winter season intensifies, the people of Afghanistan are under real and serious threat of famine.

Millions in Afghanistan are being forced to live in miserable poverty. Meanwhile, thousands of displaced families are facing severe economic hardship.

The administration has warned that more than 35,000 families who have been internally displaced are facing a lack of food, medicine, proper lodgings and warm clothing.

After the Taliban took over Kabul in August 2020, hundreds of thousands of Afghans fled their homes; tens of thousands were evacuated from Kabul.

The majority who remained in Afghanistan have been plunged into a deeper humanitarian crisis as they struggle to cope with the severe cold as living conditions deteriorate.

Afghan children are the least responsible for the country‘s crisis, but they are paying the heaviest price.

“One million children in Afghanistan are at risk of dying from severe acute malnutrition within weeks unless they get access to life-saving treatment,” UNICEF, the United Nations agency responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide, said in a statement early last month.

According to UNICEF, “Half the country, around 23 million people in Afghanistan, are facing acute food insecurity, with an estimated 3.2 million children under the age of five expected to suffer from acute malnutrition.”

In the hope of shoring up collapsing basic services in Afghanistan, the UN and its sister organizations launched a more than $5 billion funding appeal for Afghanistan on Tuesday.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths said, “This is the largest-ever appeal for a single country for humanitarian assistance and it is three times the amount needed and fundraised in 2021,” according to UN News.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned on Thursday that the world is “in a race against time to help the Afghan people.”

Speaking during a news conference in New York, Guterres said that there are “babies being sold to feed their siblings, and freezing health facilities overflowing with malnourished children. People are burning their possessions to keep warm. Presently, more than half the population of Afghanistan depends on life-saving assistance.”

“Without a more concerted effort from the international community, virtually every man, woman and child in Afghanistan could face acute poverty,” Guterres added.

Sadia Hashimi, a leading Afghan women’s rights advocate and a former senior official at the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development in Kabul, told The Media Line, “Afghanistan is a country where there is pain and tragedy. Afghanistan and humanitarian crisis are names that seem to be inseparable.”

“There is a severe shortage of food, lack of medicines, lack of heating appliances, shelters for internally displaced persons, and the unemployment crisis; meanwhile, mental security is the grimmest disaster,” she added.

Hashmi noted that the crisis stems from the fact that the governing Taliban do not have any administrative expertise. “Before the Taliban regime, about 60% of people lived in poverty, but with the advent of the Taliban, poverty rose to 99% because they paralyzed the governance system,” she said.

“Taliban must induct relevant experts-consultants in every state-run department,” she added.

The international community must come forward and extend support to Afghanistan, otherwise people will suffer, and more people will be displaced in Afghanistan and in the neighboring countries

Irina Tsukerman, a New York-based South Asian analyst and national security expert, told The Media Line, “Due to intensifying winters and lack of resources, the disastrous situation may leave millions in poverty, including children at risk of starvation.”

She said that mass starvation in Afghanistan would lead to dire consequences for the entire region, including a mass refugee crisis across the globe.

She added, “The international community is seeking to find channels for humanitarian assistance which will not also further empower and entrench the Taliban or give it undeserved political legitimacy.”

Tsukerman explained that the international community is “torn between trying to work with the Taliban to ensure at least some level of coordination to avoid a humanitarian disaster that can lead to mass deaths and minimizing the engagement that Taliban can use in self-serving ways that ultimately does not benefit the civilian population.”

In contrast to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, “the Taliban needs money to ensure that its key commanders and rank-and-file soldiers retain enough income not to be tempted to split off,” according to Dr. Frank Musmar, a Texas-based nonresident researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.

“Unfortunately, the United States spent $88 billion in 20 years, but failed to create an economically-sustainable Afghan state,” he told The Media Line.

Musmar said, “Pakistan can play a role in controlling the chaos in Afghanistan; however, instead of playing the card of the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, they should contain Taliban and al-Qaida leadership that has some influence and power to force them to abide by the international demands and stop their attacks on civilians and former government officials.”

Qaiser Khan Afridi, spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Pakistan, told The Media Line that the situation in Afghanistan is “getting worse” and that its people will face acute poverty “if the international community doesn’t make efforts.”

“People in Afghanistan are facing one of the world’s most rapidly growing humanitarian crises. Half of the population faces acute hunger, over 9 million people are displaced, and millions of children are out of school,” Afridi said.

He added, “Without support, tens of thousands of children are at risk of dying from malnutrition as basic health services have collapsed.”

“The international community must come forward and extend support to Afghanistan, otherwise people will suffer, and more people will be displaced in Afghanistan and in the neighboring countries,” he said.

Salman Javed, an Islamabad-based political analyst and the director-general of Pak Afghan Youth Forum, said, “Embassies of different countries are still functioning in Kabul and to run the basic affairs of the country the Taliban’s interim government can maintain global diplomatic relations.”

He also noted that the Taliban‘s acting foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, is frequently visiting neighboring countries and their political office is still active in Doha, Qatar. Therefore, he added, “the humanitarian aid and channeling it into the country is not an issue of recognition, it is the issue of … stepping up to help the humanity suffering inside Afghanistan.”

“Undoubtedly, no country can be governed by humanitarian aid alone. It needs a sustainable economic model, which is not possible without global recognition of the current Afghan government,” he concluded.