Afghanistan goes from bad to worse
Desperation among Afghans from all walks of life is again on the rise. Prices continue to spike, donor fatigue has hit nongovernmental organizations hard, and Taliban rulings affect economic participation.
Leslie Merriman has been distributing food packages to Afghan special immigrant visa applicants since September. At her latest food drop, delivery personnel were swarmed by hordes of hungry Afghans. “This week was the worst,” she said, with “kids getting into the cars, being aggressive [and trying] to take food.”
Merriman attributes the unsettling incident to continued joblessness, and rising food prices. Since September, she has seen a 400% increase in the price of flour alone. Merriman has previously provided Afghans with nutritious offerings such as eggs and citrus fruits, since vitamins are too expensive to source. Lately, purchasing chicken eggs has become too costly, though she says Afghan marketplaces are filled with cheap turtle eggs from China. Fresh fruit is “beyond a luxury,” she told me. “I’ve had to cut my food program back significantly,” she lamented.
Abdul Bari Azimi, head of the Azimi Foundation, also told me of recent increases in prices for staples such as flour, oil, and rice. The number of orders he receives for food packages, however, continues to decline. Many of Azimi’s customers are nongovernmental organizations assisting some of the 160,000 eligible allies awaiting departure from Afghanistan. Some NGOs are running low on donations, and hitting a breaking point.
Ben Owen, the CEO of Flanders Fields, has had to turn away all but the organization’s most dire cases. They gave 68 of the families under their care a 30-day warning to find housing. To help the families that needed an additional month to seek out a safe home, Owen donated funds from his company, BlackRifle Co.
Operation 620, which was long making due with a $1,500 monthly deficit, has been out of funds for more than 45 days. Without additional fundraising, Executive Director Doug Ramsdell says the group may have to curtail operations. Volunteer Stacy Gentile reports Operation North Star is also “dangerously close” to running out of funds. Afghans without ties to the West are also affected greatly under current conditions. The BBC has reported that many poor Afghans are surviving on scraps of stale naan bread previously used as animal feed. Even doctors are experiencing economic troubles.
Orthodontic specialist Sima, whose name has been changed for her protection, has been her family’s only breadwinner since her husband was forced to resign without benefits from his job at a Kabul bank. Sima has long feared that the Taliban will retaliate against her due to her former employment as a journalist and women’s rights advocate. Restrictions on her current work create new concerns. Already, Taliban rulings forbid Sima from seeing male patients, and force her to wear a veil while practicing medicine. Recently, a colleague informed her that the Taliban have banned organ transplants and cosmetic surgeries for being against Islam. There are fears that the Taliban are considering banning orthodontics for the same reason.
Sima tells me that an employment-based visa to bring her husband and two small children out of Afghanistan would cost $15,000. “We don’t have that kind of money,” she explained. Her family is “struggling to meet [their] needs,” she added. “You can imagine how things would be for the rest of the population.”
Beth Bailey (@BWBailey85) is a freelance writer from the Detroit area and manages several cases for Operation 620.