HERAT, Afghanistan – Desperate to feed her family, Saleha, a housekeeper here in western Afghanistan, has incurred a debt so insurmountable that the only solution for her is to hand over her 3-year-old daughter, Najiba, to the man who loaned him the money.
The debt is $ 550.
Such is the gravity of worsening poverty in Afghanistan, a humanitarian crisis that rapidly worsens after the Taliban seized power on August 15, prompting the United States to freeze $ 9 billion in US assets. Afghan central bank and shutting down most foreign aid.
Already 95% of Afghans do not have enough to eat, according to the United Nations World Food Program, which has warned that “people are being pushed to the brink of survival.” Almost the entire Afghan population of 40 million could fall below the poverty line in the coming months, UN says
Behind these statistics lie countless personal tragedies of families like Saleha’s. She and her husband worked on a farm in the western province of Badghis, but two years ago they lost that income due to fighting in the area and drought. They moved to a giant camp for internally displaced people from other provinces, known as Shahrak Sabz, in Herat, and borrowed money just to get food.
With the financial system and trade crippled after the Taliban took control, the prices of basic food items like flour and oil have doubled since mid-August. The lender offered earlier this month to write off the debt if she forgives her baby girl.
They have three months to provide the money. Otherwise, Najiba will clean the lender and be married to one of her three sons when she reaches puberty. They don’t know which one. The oldest is now 6 years old.
“If life continues to be this horrible, I will kill my children and myself,” Saleha said, speaking from her tiny two-room house. “I don’t even know what we’re going to eat tonight.
“I will try to find the money to save my daughter’s life,” added her husband, Abdul Wahab.
The lender, Khalid Ahmad, confirmed he made the offer to the couple.
“I don’t have any money either. They did not reimburse me ”, declared Mr. Ahmad, reached by telephone in Badghis. “So there is no choice but to take the girl. “
After the Taliban took control, neighboring Pakistan and Iran, where many men from that community worked as laborers, closed their borders, bracing for an influx of refugees. All that’s left as work is collecting plastic bottles and other trash to sell for recycling. Other families in the region have had to abandon their children to repay their debts, according to residents.
The growing misery could undermine the Taliban’s hitherto strong hold on power and serve as a recruiting tool for the local branch of the Islamic State, their only major rival. A Taliban official from the west of the country said Afghans would have to get used to a meager existence.
“We suffered for 20 years fighting jihad, we lost family members, we didn’t have adequate food, and in the end we were rewarded by this government. If people have to struggle for a few months, so what? said the official. “Popularity is not important to the Taliban. “
Taliban officials have repeatedly stated that they welcome international aid to Afghanistan, but that they will not compromise their Islamic beliefs to obtain aid.
The humanitarian crisis, however, gives rise to a debate within the international community on the advisability of conditioning foreign aid on the Taliban, who moderate their behavior and respect more the rights of women and minorities.
The new Afghan health minister, a Taliban-appointed urologist and one of the few non-clerics in the new administration, has pleaded for the international community not to leave the country.
“It’s the same mother, the same child, the same patient that you were helping before. They haven’t changed, ”Dr Qalandar Ibaad said in an interview. “Governments change in all countries.
Groups like the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN warn that emergency humanitarian aid must be unconditional. While demanding that the Taliban allow women to study and work is important, they argue, a more urgent priority is to ensure that women do not freeze or starve this winter.
The United States and other Western countries that have spent the past two decades fighting in Afghanistan have a special responsibility, some aid officials say.
“Those countries that have their fingerprints all over the place in the sad situation here must at least disburse the funds we need so that we can prevent people from perishing in large numbers this winter,” Jan Egeland, general secretary of the Norwegian Council for the refugees, which operates in more than a dozen Afghan provinces, said in an interview in Kabul. “Withholding funding that saves lives because we are still negotiating women’s rights would be totally wrong. “
Mr Egeland, former head of the UN’s emergency aid arm, said his organization would not reopen boys ‘schools in provinces where girls’ schools were not allowed, but that it would not refuse help that could save lives.
Heather Barr, associate director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, said donors had sworn they would judge the Taliban on their actions, but the risk of famine left them little choice but to provide. help anyway.
“The Taliban are holding the Afghans hostage and playing chicken with the international community,” she said.
Some 2,300 Afghan hospitals and clinics depended on foreign funding before the Taliban took control. Only 17% of them are now fully functional and 64% no longer have essential medicines, said Richard Brennan, regional director of emergencies at the World Health Organization.
International aid has also paid the salaries of tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and teachers, who are now struggling to cope.
In Hérat, an emergency feeding center for severely malnourished babies managed by the French association Médecins Sans Frontières is full and has had to increase its capacity. Babies arrive with respiratory distress, dehydration and shock. Their mothers have so little food that they cannot produce enough milk.
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At the Herat Regional Hospital, staff threatened to quit after being unpaid for four months. The public hospital no longer even has common drugs like antibiotics and basic supplies like surgical gloves and bandages. Oxygen is lacking. Patients must purchase their own medications, anesthetics and other essentials for surgical procedures.
“I hope we will not go back to the situation of 25 or 30 years ago, when there were hardly any health facilities in this country,” said Dr Mohammad Aref Jalali, the medical director. “We could lose everything we’ve achieved. “
In the orthopedic ward, Abdul Rahman, was lying on a bed with pins sticking out of his leg, where he was shot by thieves for the motorcycle he was driving. The wound had become infected and doctors told the father of seven that they may now have to amputate his leg.
“If they cut my leg, there is no one else to support my family,” said Mr. Rahman, a 37-year-old laborer. “What will happen to my grandchildren?
—Jalaluddin Nazari and Ehsanullah Amiri contributed to this article.
Write to Saeed Shah à [email protected]
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