Afghans struggle with high prices, poverty and malnutrition everywhere

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  • Aletta Andre

    Correspondent India

  • Aletta Andre

    Correspondent India

The children’s ward of the provincial hospital in the Afghan province of Uruzgan cries constantly. There are about forty children, divided into different rooms. They are all severely malnourished.

Pediatrician Mohammad Waris Rahimi examines a baby’s papers. The girl looks like a newborn, but is five months old. Her weight is noted next to her age: only 2.7 kilos. “It’s a result of the big financial problems,” says Rahimi.

The doctor estimates that 30 percent to half of all children in Uruzgan are malnourished. “The parents usually have no money to go to the hospital. They only come when there are complications. Most of the children here have diseases like pneumonia or diarrhea in addition to malnutrition.”

Millions of children are severely malnourished

Uruzgan, where the Dutch army conducted a military operation from 2006 to 2010, has always been one of the poorest provinces in Afghanistan. Yet the scale and severity of today’s malnutrition problems is unprecedented.

The rest of the country is also doing badly. The UN estimates that 95 percent of Afghans do not have enough to eat, and that more than one million Afghan children under the age of five will be severely malnourished this year. Large-scale food aid from the UN and other aid organizations has so far prevented a real famine.

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A farmer at work in a field in Uruzgan

Millions of Afghans lost their income after the Taliban seized power last August. Under the previous government, government and the economy were largely kept afloat thanks to foreign aid money.

But after the Taliban ousted the government, foreign aid funds dried up. More than 9 billion in international assets were frozen by sanctions, and many aid organizations withdrew in whole or in part. Afghans who worked for the government or an international aid organization lost their jobs and income or had to settle for much lower wages. And this in turn led to shops, restaurants, hairdressers and street vendors losing their customers.

Drought and floods

In addition, the country was hit by extreme drought, which resulted in much smaller harvests. Prices of oil, wheat and fuel, already higher due to the international situation, rose further. Household items now cost 50 percent more than a year ago, reports the World Bank.

All this means that all Afghans will be hit extra hard. “Everything is expensive,” says farmer Taza Gul. He works in his small field of watermelons along the road between the provincial capital Tarin Kowt and the district of Chora. Gul, a father of three young children, says he has never received help from the government or NGOs. He tries to get by on his own land and by working for other farmers. But it is no longer possible to make ends meet now that prices are so high. “A bottle of oil, for example, how expensive is it now? And wheat? I have nothing to eat at home.”

Further on, in the village of Sarab Kakozai, Mohammad Ikhlas Ada shovels a layer of sand from the yard in front of his house. The house, which is made of mud and clay, was badly damaged by a flood two weeks ago. “The water has taken everything with it. I only have the clothes I’m wearing,” says Ada.

He and his family, all farm workers, also struggle with the high prices “We borrowed money for our daily expenses. Now the debt is so high that my elder brother has gone to Pakistan to earn money. No, here in the neighborhood it is not work .”

Previously, we showed how some Afghan families choose to sell their children to survive:

Families sell children to survive in Afghanistan

Gull Khan Forqanyar, who is in charge of the economy in Chora district within the Taliban government, agrees: “There is no work for the young generation”. And he mentions several problems: “We need clinics, roads that connect us to other provinces, and clean water. Children are getting sick from the water here.”

He sees no solution and has put his hope in the return of the international aid organizations. “There are fewer aid organizations active now. A few, like the World Food Organization, are helping, but it’s not enough for our people. It’s safe enough now, so I’m asking other organizations to come too.”

The provincial hospital is also struggling with shortages. Doctor Rahimi finds it very difficult to treat all patients. “We barely have enough water and only two pediatricians and a nurse. It’s not enough.”

It has been almost a year since the Taliban retook Afghanistan. Who are they and what do they want? An explanation:

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