Economy

Cold weather, poverty darken lives of impoverished Afghans

By Omar

A group of 11 Afghan men in early January 2023 attempted to illegally cross into Iran from Herat province, Afghanistan, to find employment. Trapped by a snowstorm, they were forced to return to Afghanistan to seek medical attention for frostbite. Meanwhile, an Afghan welfare foundation on January 17, distributed flour, oil and rice to more than 2,000 poor families in Herat province. [Omar/Salaam Times]

HERAT -- Abdul Hakim, 27, lies on a treatment bed with his legs wrapped in bandages in the burn ward of the Herat Regional Hospital, suffering from the effects of frostbite.

Hakim along with a group of 10 other young men on January 10 attempted to illegally cross into Iran from Herat.

The group entered Iranian territory at night via the Kohsan district of Herat but got stranded on a mountain by a severe snowstorm.

They were trapped for six days and six nights, and were eventually forced to return across the border to Afghanistan to seek medical attention.

Three young men who wanted to illegally cross into Iran to find employment are seen January 16 at the Herat Regional Hospital as they receive care for frostbite. [Omar/Salaam Times]

Three young men who wanted to illegally cross into Iran to find employment are seen January 16 at the Herat Regional Hospital as they receive care for frostbite. [Omar/Salaam Times]

Labourers wait to find work January 17 in Herat city. [Omar/Salaam Times]

Labourers wait to find work January 17 in Herat city. [Omar/Salaam Times]

Hakim's 10 companions also suffered serious frostbite, badly affecting their hands and legs.

Poverty and unemployment forced him to embark on this risky journey, Hakim said.

"To find food for my kids and wife, I had to go to Iran," he said. "We don't even have one piece of bread at home to feed my children. I have three kids and can't feed them."

"I was well aware of the cold weather and risks associated with illegal routes, but I had no other option," he added.

Work opportunities are scarce in Afghanistan and many youth embark on dangerous journeys to neighbouring countries such as Iran for work.

Unprecedented cold has made life even more difficult for millions of Afghans who were already suffering from hunger and an economic crisis that has engulfed the country for nearly a year and a half.

A cold wave on January 10 hit more than 20 provinces of Afghanistan, with temperatures dropping as low -33 degrees Celsius.

Some 78 people and 70,000 livestock have died from cold, according to authorities.

Cold weather and poverty

Shivering from the cold and holding his hands close to his mouth to warm them, Abdul Ghafoor, 51, sits on a roadside in Herat city waiting for work.

Despite waiting all day every day, Ghafoor has returned home empty handed for two weeks.

Ghafoor, the breadwinner of a family of four, said he cannot warm his house in the cold weather and cannot sleep properly at night from the cold.

"Life has become really difficult in this cold weather. I leave home every day in search of work but return empty handed and hungry," he said. "There is no work. People who had money and were building houses have left the country."

"Like me, hundreds of other workers also leave their homes in search of work but return home at night disappointed," he added.

Khalil Ahmad, 65, who transports goods using his cart in Herat city, has not been able to find work due to the snow and cold weather.

His daily income has dropped to 50 AFN (56 US cents).

That is not enough to provide for his family of three, said Ahmad, adding that sometimes he is forced to beg for money.

"I wait on the side of the street the whole day, but there is no work," he said. "Some days, I earn 20-50 AFN (22 to 56 US cents), but most days I can't earn even a single afghani. I have to beg to buy bread for my family."

"Although the difficulties of life forced me to start begging, most people do not have money to help me," Khalil added.

Helping the poor

International and domestic NGOs are trying their best to help those in need.

Habibyar, an Afghan welfare foundation, on January 17 distributed flour, oil and rice to more than 2,000 poor families in Herat.

Nasima, 46, a mother of five and the breadwinner of her family, was one of the beneficiaries of the assistance.

The assistance means that she and her children will not go hungry for a month.

"My life has become very difficult since the weather has gotten cold," she said.

"During the night, we sleep under one blanket to ... warm ourselves," Nasima added. "But the weather is so cold that we can't sleep properly, and many evenings we even forget to eat dinner."

Mohammad Yusuf, 57, received 50kg of flour, 25kg of rice, and 10 litres of oil, which is enough to feed his family of four for one month.

"I do not have a working son, and I have to earn for my family, but there is no work and I rely on others in this old age," he added.

He and his wife and two daughters live in a mud house in the western part of Herat city.

They have no way to warm their house and the cold weather has made their lives very difficult, Yusuf said.

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The poor people have no bread to eat during this winter. The poor people are sitting at the Chawk [square where the labor workers get together to be picked up for working] waiting to find work, but there is no work. The weather has become very cold in the city of Kabul and the provinces of Afghanistan. People cannot afford to buy firewood or coal. Majority of the people spend their days and nights in their cold homes with their families. Poor youth are forced to leave their homeland. There is no work for our youth in Afghanistan. During the former government, the youth used to go to the Chawk to find work. For a few days, when they couldn't find work, the poor labor workers would turn to military service, out of necessity. And at that Chawk, there were recruitment centers for the Afghan army. In one week, approximately 300 to 500 members of a a military corps were getting dead and wounded. Most of these people were labor workers, and went to military service for unemployment, and now our youth are still facing problems and the youth understand that all kinds of accidents happen on the way. These young people are playing with death. The young people who went abroad can basically support their respectable families from an economic point of view. Inside Afghanistan, if there are 5 people working in a family, the families still have many problems from an economic point of view. Most of the people have sold their houses and sent out one of their sons abroad, and there is no guarant

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May Allah have mercy on our people. Unfortunately, neither our Muslim neighbors nor our international friends showed mercy toward our people. Pakistan and Iran destroyed our country and trained our people in fighter groups, and then killed each other or sent them to fight in other countries. America says it spent 100 trillion dollars in Afghanistan in 20 years but did not benefit Afghans. Millions of Afghans faced deadly hunger three months after the collapse of the [government] system. If, during the last 20 years, when the international coalition was present in Afghanistan, regular electricity dams and production factories had been built; now our youth would not be forced to go to other countries in search of food and face such dangerous situations.

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However, the focus of the current Afghan government is only on women. People don't have bread to eat, they don't have anything to warm themselves in this winter with, they don't have winter clothes, firewood and heaters, the electricity has been cut off by Uzbekistan, but despite all these problems, the Taliban issue orders every day and restrict women's work, education and life. This stubbornness of the Taliban has caused the isolation of Afghanistan at the global level and has forced international organizations and donor countries in Afghanistan to suspend their aid to the Afghan people. The Taliban are sitting in the government offices. They have heaters, they have electricity, they don't think of strangers and poor people. No one listens to the poor and strange people, and as always, it is these people who pay for the wrong policies of their rulers. May God guide the Taliban.

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This report is completely authentic, and every sentence is correct; there is no lie. People have told the truth in the words they have related to you. There is no other way because people are forced to flee their homeland in one way or another and work to keep their children alive. Otherwise, they will die of cold and hunger. Not only the poverty spread, but also the prices of goods are increasing daily, and food insecurity is rising; most children and some adults are malnourished. Sometimes I listen to Radio Azadi, where the listeners complain about hunger, poverty, and unemployment in their audio messages. A resident of Jalalabad said in his message, "People died of hunger, they have no flour at home for months. They are facing problems. We want the current authorities to share our grief. The media and journalists are also facing problems, and they cannot deliver our voice to others." Besides hunger and poverty, the cold winter nights are freezing, which has caused many diseases. The number of dead has increased to 120, dozens of houses have been destroyed, and tens of thousands of animals have also been killed. If the situation continues the way it is now, severe humanitarian disasters will occur. May God have mercy on Afghans...

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