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With winter, hunger in the stomach for millions of Afghans

Wakil Kohsar Agence France-Presse Afghan women with their children, in a room at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in Kabul, after their expulsion from Pakistan

Pascale Trouillaud – Agence France-Presse and Abdullah Hasrat – Agence France-Presse to Pol-e Alam

January 18, 2024

  • Middle East

Khurma had to borrow shoes from her neighbor to come to Pol-é Alam to get some modest aid to enable the most vulnerable Afghans to survive the dreaded winter.

This 45-year-old widow in a threadbare blue burqa and mother of six waits to receive 3,200 Afghanis (about $60) from the World Food Program (WFP) in the capital of eastern Logar province, where the thermometer could drop again this winter to -18°C.

“We are in need,” she explains. When we can't find bread, we go to bed on an empty stomach. »

“As winter approached, the situation was already catastrophic” in Afghanistan, says Caroline Gluck, spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “but now , we have two huge emergencies.”

Since the three successive earthquakes which destroyed or made uninhabitable in October 31,000 houses in Herat, in the west of the country, tens of thousands of people have been sleeping in tents.

And half a million Afghans expelled from Pakistan returned to a country with an anemic economy, under international sanctions, “at the worst time of the year”, she says.< /p>

Rabbani, 32, is one of them.

As a refugee, he is entitled to in-kind assistance from the WFP: 50 kilos of flour, six kilos of red beans, five liters of oil and a pound of salt for his family of seven .

But “there’s no work here,” he complains.

“Food emergency”

Shakar Gul, a 67-year-old woman veiled in white, has just received her 3,200 Afghanis, the first of six monthly payments.

“We adults, if we don’t have enough to eat for several days, that’s okay, but we don’t let our children starve. »

She will be able to buy “a bag of flour, five liters of oil, tea and sugar”.

It will only be fine for 15 days.

“People excluded [from donations] still come to wait here, especially women. They are angry, but we explain to them that there are people even more deprived than them,” says Baryalai Hakimi.

The center manager distributed money to 600 families that day. But this winter, “donations collapsed” due to the multiplication of crises on the planet.

Despite the scale of humanitarian needs in Afghanistan, the UN appeal for $3.2 billion was only 40% funded as of last December. “It’s terrible, there are people who have nothing,” said Mr. Hakimi.

This is the case of Bibi Raihana, 40 years old, eight children, a husband in prison, health problems, plastic sandals and “not a single Afghani in her pocket”. Through the mesh of her burqa, we see that she is crying. “My name was not on the lists. They didn't give me anything. »

3.2 billion This is the dollar amount requested by the UN for humanitarian needs in Afghanistan. Only 40% of this sum had been raised last December.

“This winter, 15.8 million Afghans need assistance and 2.8 million are in food emergency,” says Philippe Kropf, WFP spokesperson. Due to the drop in donations, “we are only going to provide emergency aid to six million people,” he explains.

“Ten million people will have to survive without assistance”, in this country bled by four decades of conflict, very affected by climate change and where 85% of the population lives on less than a dollar a year. day.

Extreme poverty which affects both the countryside and the cities.

“So poor”

Among the most miserable, portions gradually decrease, meals are skipped, adults leave their share to the children, we get into debt with the neighbors, then the children leave school to work in the streets.

In extreme cases, a child is sold.

Like Allaudin, a farmer from the province of Badghîs (west), who explained to the WFP that he sold his granddaughter to buy 60 kilos of wheat seeds. But the drought prevented any harvest.

85% This is the share of the Afghan population that lives on less than a dollar a day.

An hour's drive from Pol-e Alam, in the middle of a dusty desert, the WFP — which provides 90 percent of food aid to Afghanistan — distributes flour, oil and lentils in the district of Baraki Barak.

Lambat is waiting for his food, which a three-wheeler will bring to his home. “We are so poor. Look at my clothes,” laments the 40-year-old Afghan, pointing to his threadbare gray tunic.

Already sitting in the scooter among the bags of flour, Zulfiqar, 77, explains that his family sometimes doesn't eat anything for two or three days. “When we have nothing left, we wrap ourselves in the patou [large shawl] and sleep,” said the toothless man.

The Taliban government does not pay allowances to the most deprived, but a modest sum at the Pakistan border to returning Afghans.

With winter, hunger in the stomach for millions of Afghans

Photo: Wakil Kohsar Agence France-Presse An hour's drive from Pol-e Alam, in the middle of a dusty desert, WFP distributes flour, oil and lentils in the Baraki Barak district. (Photo by Wakil KOHSAR/AFP)


It is in the poverty-stricken suburbs of Kabul that thousands of these refugees from Pakistan come to seek help from the UNHCR. At best $375 per person, sometimes much less because you have to have papers.

Meet on site, Najiba, who has only ever lived in Pakistan, shows AFP the hovel where her brother is staying with her husband and their three children. They live in one room and sleep on the floor. “We're trying to survive,” she said, cradling her youngest child, in front of her other children, barefoot despite the cold.

With winter, hunger in the stomach for millions of Afghans

Photo: Wakil Kohsar Agence France-Presse Najiba with her son Hasibullah and daughter Nazia

Benazira is struggling too: at 34, she has eight daughters, a son and a sick husband. In her hand she holds some green notes received from the UNHCR. She had never seen one. We help him count: $340.

The family will return to their province of Nangarhar (east). There “we sleep in a brickyard, there is not a window intact. Only God is with us,” said Benazira.

“I can’t even imagine how we’re going to get through this winter. »

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116