Unemployed, Afghan middle class plunged into poverty and hunger

Kabul, Afghanistan (Associated Press)-Not long ago, Ferishta Salihi and her family had enough money to lead a decent life. Her husband is working and has a good income. She can send her daughters to private schools.

But now, after her husband lost his job after the Taliban took over Afghanistan, she lined up with hundreds of other Afghans to register with the United Nations World Food Program for food and cash, something her family desperately needs for survival.

“We have lost everything. We have lost our sanity,” Salish said after the registration was completed. With her was her 17-year-old daughter Fatima, who had to drop her out of school. She cannot afford private school tuition. So far, the Taliban have not allowed girls to go to public schools.

“I don’t want anything myself, I just want my children to receive education,” Salish said.

In the months when the Afghan economy collapsed, many stable middle-class families like Salish fell into despair, wondering how they would pay for the next meal.This is a reason The United Nations raises the alarm In the hunger crisis, 22% of the 38 million people are close to famine, and the other 36% face severe food insecurity—mainly because people cannot afford food.

Under the leadership of the last government backed by the United States, the economy has been in trouble, and the government is often unable to pay its employees. The coronavirus pandemic and the severe drought that caused food prices to increase made the situation worse. As early as 2020, nearly half of Afghanistan’s population was living in poverty.

Then, after the Taliban seized power on August 15, the world stopped providing funds to Afghanistan, thus freeing the country’s small and middle class from the predicament. International funds used to pay most of the government’s budget — without it, the Taliban would basically be unable to pay wages or provide public services. The international community does not recognize the rule of the Taliban and requires militants to form a more inclusive government and respect human rights.

International aid has also promoted projects that provide work across the country, but most of these projects have now been shelved. The country’s banks are isolated from the international banking system, further angering the private sector. It is estimated that the country’s economy has contracted by 40% in just three months.

The hospital sees more and more thin, malnourished children, most of whom come from the poorest families in the country, who have barely made a living.

Now, families whose once stable livelihoods have been destroyed also find that they have nothing and must work hard to find ways to pay for food, rent and medical expenses.

Salish’s husband used to work in the logistics department of the World Bank’s Kabul office and earns about 24,000 Afghanis (US$264) per month. But after the Taliban came to power, the World Bank stopped its projects. The 39-year-old Salish said her husband was told not to come to the office and he has not received his salary since.

Now she is the only source of income for the family. One of her neighbors has a business selling nuts, so they put bags of nuts in the house for shelling, and then she sells the shells to those who use them to burn fuel.

She said her husband was walking around the area all day looking for work. “All he can do is measure the street with his feet,” she said with an expression of nothing to do.

The United States and other international donors are providing humanitarian aid funds to Afghanistan through United Nations agencies to ensure that funds do not enter the Taliban government’s treasury. The main focus is on two tracks. The United Nations Development Programme, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund are working to pay doctors and nurses across the country directly to prevent the health sector from collapsing. At the same time, the World Food Program is providing direct cash assistance and food to families, trying to keep them away from the water.

The World Food Program had to speed up its plan drastically. In 2020, it provided assistance to 9 million people, an increase from the previous year. So far this year, this number has risen to nearly 14 million, and this number has been rising sharply every month since August. Next year, the agency aims to serve more than 23 million people, and it says it needs 220 million U.S. dollars per month to do this.

It’s not just the poorest of the poor who need help, they usually live in rural areas. Shelley Thakral, spokesperson for the World Food Program’s Afghanistan, said: “There is a new urban class who is receiving salaries until the summer… and now they are facing hunger for the first time.”

“People now have to look for food, they don’t eat, and mothers are forced to reduce the amount of food,” she said.

Last week, hundreds of men and women lined up to collect cash at the gym in the western community of Kabul-3,500 afghanis per month, or about $38.

The 45-year-old widow Nouria Sarvari who was waiting in line used to work in the Ministry of Higher Education. After the Taliban came to power, they told most female government employees to stay at home. Savari said that she has not received a salary since then, and she is working hard to provide food for the three children who still live with her.

Her 14-year-old son Sajjad sells plastic bags in the market to make some money. Sarvari said she relied on the help of neighbors. “I bought it on credit from the shopkeeper. I owe so many shopkeepers. Most of the money I received today is used to pay what I owe.”

Samim Hassanzwai said that in the past year, his life has been completely upended. He said that his father and mother both died of COVID-19. His father was an officer of an intelligence agency, and his mother was an interpreter for an agency in the United States.

Hassanzwai, 29, has been working in the Ministry of Culture, but has not received a salary since the Taliban came to power. Now he is unemployed, and his wife, three children and four sisters are dependent on him.

“I have a job, my mother has a job, and my father has his responsibilities. We do a good job with money,” he said. “Now everything is over.”

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