'Now we are at war with hunger': Afghans left feeling betrayed and forgotten with politicisation of vital humanitarian aid
In the courtyard of a small warehouse north of Kabul, around 40 beneficiaries wait in front of a truck. Inside, huge bags of flour are ready to be distributed.
An Afghan private airline, Kam Air, organises these donations.
In a corner, a young Zahra stands next to her mother, waiting for the precious sesame that will save her family for weeks to come. "The situation has always been difficult at home, but it has been even harder for the past year," she tells The New Arab.
"Some days, we only eat dry bread. Our father is sick, he cannot work, and my brothers are too young to help us. This is the first time we have had the opportunity to benefit from food distribution."
"The international sanctions put in place against Afghanistan quickly isolated the country whose economy is so dependent on international aid, plunging the country into a violent crisis"
These food distributions are distributed by an Afghan company.
After the arrival of the Taliban a year ago, the international sanctions put in place against Afghanistan quickly isolated the country whose economy is so dependent on international aid (80% of the budget under the Islamic Republic), plunging the country into a violent crisis.
By freezing the foreign assets of the Afghan central bank, the United States is still depriving the Afghan state of 7 billion dollars.
It is true that emergency aid has made a comeback in recent months, as the country sinks into a serious food crisis. But it remains limited and does not help the entire population. Restrictions on the banking system prevent development aid from returning and seriously hamper trade in the country.
In many Afghan families, the men, who usually ensure the survival of the family, are unemployed. According to the United Nations, 23 million Afghans are hungry out of a population of 38 million, and with recent events, the situation could get worse.
Negotiations at a standstill
In the heart of Kabul, in the residential district of Wazi Akbar Khan, an American non-explosive Hellfire "Ninja" R9X missile launched by a CIA drone killed the leader of al-Qaeda on his balcony at the end of July.
In the days that followed, the Taliban claimed that they were unaware of the presence of Ayman al-Zawahiri, who had been living in the centre of Kabul for several months.
This is hard to believe for the United States, which considers that the Taliban violated the Doha agreements by allowing a terrorist group to establish itself on Afghan territory.
"We fled the war, and now we are at war with hunger"
"After this strike, the sanctions against the Taliban will now be harder to lift," said Dr Nishank Motwani, Edward S. Mason Fellow and Ramsay Center Scholar at the Harvard Kennedy School, "and I would not be surprised if the restrictions against the Taliban are tightened, especially on their international travel (for now, they can move freely). Since their return to power, the Taliban have had to prove why it is worth talking to them.
"For there to be change on the ground, there would have to be a change in the approach developed by the Taliban by reopening schools for girls, for example, or by not allowing terrorist organisations to take root. I think it is really going to be more difficult for them now. (…) For the humanitarian organisations, who were hoping that there might be some changes to allow more money into the country, it is going to be complicated."
At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul, as August 15 approaches, dozens of journalists introduce themselves to ask for a work permit.
Even though they recently threatened to make it harder for freelance journalists to enter the country, since their return to power, the Taliban have remained welcoming to foreign media, especially Westerners.
They want to make a good impression on the West, as they have not yet been recognised by any state. "The truth is that the United States remains the biggest humanitarian partner, the Taliban have that in mind," says Graeme Smith, Senior Consultant, International Crisis Group.
"The Americans have spent money in Afghanistan as no one else has. So now, with sanctions, who will pay for irrigation systems in the drought-stricken country? It will take a lot of money, so it can only be the World Bank [with the agreement of the US]. The Taliban would like to give the impression that they have an option with the Chinese and Russians. But the important investors are in the West (...) in the context of the American strike on Kabul, the situation is blocked, the Americans and the Taliban are both sticking to their positions."
Donors on all fronts
On the northwestern outskirts of Kabul, along Ustad Rabbani Street, a small group of men stand in an alley.
They are watching the passageways at the entrance to the Charahee Qamher camp.
In this IDP camp, the dust-covered ground forms small bumps. It has never been concreted. All around, the makeshift houses built by the inhabitants are made of dirt.
To get around, we have to make our way through narrow alleys. Abdul Wahid, the camp manager, steps over a pile of garbage: "We have no garbage collection service here. No running water or electricity. 1,800 people live in total destitution."
A few metres away, in a narrow house, the women hide modestly from prying eyes, as is the Pashtun tradition.
Said Khan shares the place with his two brothers and their families. He enters his house and grabs a plastic bag that he empties on the floor: "This is what we will eat tonight," he says, showing a few pieces of stale bread.
Already living in a camp for displaced people since 2015 in his native Helmand, this father arrived in Kabul last April, to escape the misery. "We will not go back to Helmand, there is no work. And we do not even have a house there anymore because of the last year's fighting," he tells The New Arab.
Cut off from solidarity networks, he does not know about the existence of the UNHCR. He survives by shining the shoes of passers-by in Kabul.
Senior Communications Officer for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Afghanistan since January, Peter Kessler deplores the lack of resources to help displaced Afghans: "In 2022, the agency's budget has decreased by 43%. Our means have seriously fallen. Some donors have reservations about the Taliban regime, but it is above all the multiplication of crises in the world that explains this decrease. Ukraine has mobilised a lot of resources for humanitarian aid, not to mention the famine in the Horn of Africa.”
He adds, looking dejected, "Afghanistan has become just another country in crisis."
In his makeshift living room, Said Khan packs up the stale bread and looks down at his son with his big hazel eyes, "We fled the war, and now we are at war with hunger."
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