Gulnaz, left, keeps her 18-month-old son warm themselves as they wait for alms in the Kabul - Pul-e-Alam highway eastern Afghanistan, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Kathy Gannon)
The United Nations is trying to help hundreds of thousands of people in critical need of food and other aid this year in Afghanistan. Severe winter weather in the country is adding to a growing economic crisis under Taliban leadership.
Gulnaz is one of the many suffering Afghans. The 28-year-old sits on the rocky ground along a busy road in the eastern part of the country. She asks for help from strangers.
She is not alone. In her arms, she holds close her 18-month-old son. A blanket and small fire is all they have to stay warm. She is also joined by her sister Khalida.
Sometimes a driver will stop and give her some money. She waits all day along the 70 kilometer road between Kabul and Pul-e-Alam, the capital of Logar province.
Gulnaz says she has gotten close to three dollars in a day before, but the usual total is far lower.
Afghanistan was already struggling when the Taliban overthrew the government in August. International agencies suspended billions of dollars worth of aid programs to the country over concerns that the extremist government would misuse it. The U.N. says more than a half-million people have lost their jobs since the takeover.
It is estimated that about 90 percent of Afghanistan’s 38 million people are dependent on aid. The U.N. says nearly 3 million there are displaced in their own country, driven from their homes by war, hunger and severe weather.
In 2020 alone, 700,000 Afghans became displaced, many living in public places like parks.
The spokeswoman for the World Food Program (WFP) in Afghanistan, called the problem “dire.” Shelley Thakral said the U.N. agency will need $2.6 billion to help the people of Afghanistan this year. She called the WFP effort in Afghanistan “a race against time.”
The United Nations recently asked for $5 billion to help Afghanistan.
Gulnaz had lived in Kunduz with her husband, a shoemaker. But his business did not survive the warring and takeover by the Taliban. So, Gulnaz moved to Logar.
She said there is no way to heat her home and she and her sister end up in the same place each day waiting for drivers to stop and give them money.
In Pul-e-Alam, temperatures in January and February can drop to lows of minus-6 degrees Celsius. Still, thousands of people wait in the cold to collect WFP flour, oil, salt and beans.
The World Food Program searched for the neediest people in the city and gave them food vouchers. However, the system broke down when others heard of the food giveaway and came without the papers. They started fights and security forces had to get involved to keep order.
Hussain Andisha of the WFP said the group gave food to 500 families per day during one week in January. He said people are “desperate.”
As he talked with reporters, four women came by asking for food. One said her husband is a drug addict.
“I don’t know where he is. I have no food for my children. Please I need something,” the woman said.
The U.N. says drug dependence is a growing problem in Afghanistan. The nation produces more than 3 million kilograms of the powerful drug opium each year. The U.N. says it estimates about one million of the 38-million Afghans are addicted to drugs.
The women all said their families have no money. Another woman said her husband earns only $1 per day on the days he can find work.
Andisha said the situation is getting worse in Pul-e-Alam even as the WFP gives food to thousands of families per month.
He said people have no jobs and women are no longer permitted to work now that the Taliban is back in power.
Andisha did say, however, that the Taliban is helping with security at places where the WFP is giving out food.
Thakral, the agency spokesperson, said anyone who gives money to the food program should remember that the organization is separate from the government and the people get the aid directly.
“People come first,” she said, “and that’s important to remember in this humanitarian crisis.”
Words in This Story
dire– adj. very bad, or causing great fear or worry
desperate – adj. very sad or upset; a feeling of having little hope
voucher – n. a document that gives you the right to get something without paying for it
addict – n. a person who is not able to stop using drugs