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"We are worried we won't survive the winter"

Published on 11 January 2022

As the cold winter months bite, Afghanistan is on the brink of catastrophe. Years of conflict, widespread poverty and the worst drought in almost 30 years have tipped the country over the edge.

Currently, only 2% of Afghans get enough food to eat according to the UN. Nearly 23 million people (over half the population) are facing severe hunger in Afghanistan this winter, including 14 million struggling with food shortages and a further 8.7 million at risk of falling into famine. Without urgent treatment, one million children in Afghanistan are at risk of dying from the effects of malnutrition.

More than 80% of Afghanistan is exposed to serious drought with food and water shortages resulting from almost half the normal levels of rainfall and snow. 25 out of 34 provinces have been affected by the drought and the World Food Programme estimates that 40% of Afghanistan’s wheat crop has been lost.

The freezing of government assets and banking restrictions have resulted in an economic crisis that has helped push the price of food beyond the reach of the vast majority of Afghans. Many of these families are surviving on bread, with the average family only managing to eat vegetables or fruit one day a week and unlikely to eat meat or dairy at all over a two-week period.

Christian Aid heard from Sharifa, whose family is one of many millions of Afghan families struggling in the face of this unprecedented crisis.

We are worried we won’t survive the winter,” says the 30-year-old married mother of six. Together with her husband and children, all under the age of ten, Sharifa lives in a rundown house owned by a relative in Jalalabad city, Nangahar province in Eastern Afghanistan. Over half a million people, approximately a quarter of the province’s population, are currently at risk of famine.

Sharifa sits with her family outside their home in Nangahar province, Eastern Afghanistan.

camera icon Christian Aid

Sharifa’s husband suffers from back problems and as a result, struggles to work. Sometimes he and some of the couple’s children could get work in a brick factory in Jalalabad, earning 50 Afghanis a day (equivalent to €0.40), which isn’t enough to meet their daily expenses. 

“If my children don’t work in the brick factory, we have to sleep hungry that night,” Sharifa says. 

But as Sharifa explains, the economic crisis in the country has massively impacted the family’s ability to bring in any income at all.

“Recently, brick factories stopped working and that has left us without any income for months. It is very difficult for us to afford food,” Sharifa says.

“We have faced food shortages for months. I don’t have enough food for myself and my family to eat each day of the week. We can only afford to buy two loaves of bread and a few cups of green tea, not every day but some days of the week. We are all suffering from severe hunger,” Sharifa adds.

The lack of food has taken a toll on the health of Sharifa and her family and without an income, she is unable to afford any medical treatment. Her five-year-old son Muhammad suffers from epilepsy and has developed bronchitis. The family took out a loan from the brick factory to pay for his medicine, which according to Sharifa has had little effect, as well as to pay for Sharifa’s husband to get an X-ray, and this will need to be repaid.

The situation facing Sharifa’s family is so desperate that she holds very little hope her situation will improve anytime soon.

“We are very scared and worried about our future. I feel completely hopeless. My family have nothing to dream for as the situation is getting worse and more deadly each day,” Sharifa says.

“We have no warm clothes, jackets or socks or any fuel for heating. In the past, it was hard for us but now we are on the edge of destruction,” she adds.

Just 40 minutes away lives another family who knows Sharifa’s struggle all too well. Bibi, a 40-year-old widower lives in a dilapidated rented house together with her 10 children and elderly mother-in-law.

 Bibi and her family in their home in Nangahar province, Eastern Afghanistan

camera icon Bibi and her family in their home in Nangahar province, Eastern Afghanistan - Christian Aid/OCHR

In the last few months, we have faced severe hunger. We haven’t had any flour and food for two weeks. I boil low-quality rice to feed my children.

- Bibi.

To try help the family get by Bibi’s children would load bricks onto a truck at a local brick factory, earning between 40-80 afghanis a day (less than €0.60). But for a family of 12, this was not enough to cover the cost of buying enough food for them to eat.

But as Bibi explains, things have since gotten even worse for her family. The brick factory has stopped operating which has left them without any money for weeks and they are struggling to pay rent and to afford food and cover other basic expenses such as medicine for her mother-in-law and son who are both ill and in need of treatment.  

We don’t have enough food in our home. We are living in poverty. We don’t have any furniture to sell to pay for food,” Bibi says.

We only eat one meal a day to survive, and that is usually just bread with green tea. Sometimes we can afford to buy turnips and cauliflowers, not every day but some days. I can cook rice, beans, meat but we are very poor and so we haven’t had these for months,” Bibi says.

Like so many other Afghan families Bibi fears for her family and what lies ahead for them.

We are worried that tonight we will go to sleep hungry. I am very scared and worried for our future. We have no warm clothes for the winter. Our situation is getting worse day by day. Poverty and famine have conquered the whole country. We will soon face a disaster.

- Bibi.

Both Bibi and Sharifa’s families were among 500 vulnerable families who received support from Christian Aid’s local partner The Organisation for Coordination and Humanitarian Relief (OCHR). Bibi’s family received a high-energy food package tailored to support families with children under five years old. Sharifa’s family received a food package containing vital ingredients including flour, rice, cooking oil, pulses, sugar and salt. Both families also received ‘covid-care kits’ that contain soap and facemasks to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Through local partners, Christian Aid is set to reach around 17,000 people with food packages, and this includes providing additional nutritional support to over 850 pregnant women, new mothers and infants who are all most at risk of malnutrition.

It is estimated that $220 million a month is needed to ward off starvation in Afghanistan this winter for the many millions of people in dire need of emergency assistance.  With your support, Christian Aid and its local partners will do all they can to help save the lives of some of the most vulnerable.

Help us to reach more families like Bibi’s and Sharifa’s. Please donate now.

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