Eid Brings Little Joy to Millions of Afghans Facing Hunger | News on humanitarian crises

People across Afghanistan celebrated Eid on Sunday, but for millions of Afghans it was yet another day of struggle to bring food to the table.

According to the United Nations, more than 90% of Afghans face food shortages. Jamal, who did not wish to share his real name, is among those for whom Eid, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, has brought little joy.

The 38-year-old is struggling to make ends meet as the country finds itself in the throes of a severe humanitarian crisis unleashed since the Taliban took power last August.

A few pieces of bread from the nearby bakery is what Jamal could get for his family of 17. A portion will be saved for later along with any meals they may receive from charitable friends and neighbors.

“But I don’t expect us to get much, even for Eid. Who will give me money or food? The whole town lives in misery. I have never seen anything like it, even in the refugee camps where I grew up,” he said, referring to his upbringing in refugee camps in neighboring Pakistan.

A former senior government official, Jamal spent most of Ramadan looking for work or support to find food for sehri (suhoor in Arabic), the pre-dawn meal, and for iftar, the meal to break the fast at dusk. . Ramadan is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar during which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.

“The worst Ramadan of my life”

Jamal says his situation wasn’t always so bad. He remembers previous Ramadans – a time of prayers, spiritual reflection and family.

“Every Ramadan and Eid, we come together with family and community to worship. This month and Eid have always been about unity and forgiveness for us, but this year it is the opposite” , Jamal said.

“It was the worst Ramadan of my life; not only are we starving, but there is no unity, nor can we pray in peace,” he said, referring to recent attacks on mosques in Afghanistan.

On Sunday, Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhunzada congratulated Afghans on “victory, freedom and success” as they attended Eid prayers in the eastern city of Kandahar. But the humanitarian crisis and the deterioration of the security situation were not mentioned in his speech.

Jamal was fired from his government post after the Taliban took over. “I have always wanted to serve my country. But I was not in the army and I was not associated with any political group. And they [Taliban] fired me anyway,” he said.

Afghans break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan in Kabul [Ali Khara/Reuters]

The loss of the only source of income hit Jamal’s family very hard, and they were crippled financially in no time. “Since the Taliban took over, my family has not had a full meal. And this Ramadan, we were breaking our fast with just water and bread. And Eid is no different,” he said.

“Last Ramadan, for the past few days, we had been out shopping for the kids and even took the family for the last iftar dinner. But this year, all we can do is don’t not starve.

Food security levels have plunged

According to UN data shared at the Afghanistan conference in March, more than 24 million Afghans – more than half of the country’s population – need humanitarian aid to survive. Food security levels have plunged, triggered by US sanctions that have made it harder for humanitarian NGOs to deliver lifesaving aid.

As the situation continues to deteriorate, several NGOs in Afghanistan are reporting an increase in the number of families reaching out to them for help and services.

EU Afghanistan Hunger
According to the UN, more than 24 million Afghans need humanitarian aid to survive [File:Petros Giannakouris/AP Photo]

“We have been campaigning during Ramadan mainly for food donation for more than five years, and this year was the worst,” said Abdul Manan Momand, a social worker from Nangarhar province. He asked that the name of his organization remain discreet.

“Last year we distributed aid to approximately 3,000 families in one province alone, but this year so far we have provided aid to over 12,000 families.”

Momand said many of the new families reaching out to them for help were those who were previously well off but were financially hurt by the Taliban takeover.

“Many people have lost their jobs and many families are suffering because there is no income. Many of them are also widows who have lost their jobs,” he said, adding that at least one woman they supported this Ramadan had regularly contributed to their previous donation drives.

“She previously worked with an NGO and has contributed generously to our past campaigns, but this year she lost her job and asked us for help. It is heartbreaking to see how families struggle,” he added.

High inflation, widespread unemployment

Meanwhile, Afghan markets are experiencing high inflation, coupled with widespread unemployment.

“There is always some price increase during Ramadan in countries in the region, but Ramadan price increases are aggravating the already high inflation rates in Afghanistan due to the Taliban takeover of the country” , stressed Ahmad Jamal Shuja, former government official and co-author. of the decline and fall of republican Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, a group of UN human rights experts on Monday called on the US government to release Afghan central bank assets that were frozen after the fall of the previous government in August 2021.

“Humanitarian actors are facing serious operational challenges due to the uncertainty caused by banks’ zero-risk policies and excessive compliance with sanctions,” reads their statement, calling for the recent renewal of the government’s decision. american from block Afghan assets amounting to 7 billion dollars.

“The international community has tried to do its best, including easing sanctions and giving the Taliban a chance to ease sanctions…offered to hand over hundreds of millions of dollars in education aid — to pay the salaries of struggling teachers — if the Taliban reverses their ban on secondary education for girls,” Shuja said, referring to the continued closure of higher education for girls in the country.

“The Taliban are putting their ideology ahead of the needs of a starving Afghan population,” he said.

Families like Jamal’s, who previously thrived on a meager income of 15,000 Afghanis ($175) a month, have felt the greatest impact of the economic crash.

“Even though I didn’t earn much before, it was enough,” Jamal said. “Right now, there is no income in our family. But commodity prices have risen. We used to buy a bag of flour for 1,600 Afghanis ($19) and now it costs more than 2,700 Afghanis ($32). A can of cooking oil was 400 afghanis ($4.70) [and] now it is more than double.

The only breadwinner

As the sole breadwinner of his family, Jamal had worked hard to provide for them as well as small luxuries. He grew up as a refugee in Pakistan and spent many years doing odd jobs to complete his college education.

“After returning from the shelter [after the fall of Taliban in 2001], I was selling fruit and boxes of tissues in the streets of Kabul. Later, I was employed as a guard in a guesthouse for foreigners, and all the while I studied after hours to graduate and get this civil servant position,” he said. he declares.

“One of my brothers is a drug addict and my father doesn’t have a job either. I have always taken care of my family and worked hard to get to a position where I could provide them with comforts. But now our life is worse than it was in the refugee camps in Pakistan.

Nearly 20 years after returning from a Pakistani refugee camp, Jamal once again finds himself looking for work on the streets. He borrowed money to buy a small handcart in hopes of finding work pushing small goods to market. “But there are no goods to transport,” he said. “Most of the time I go home empty-handed.”

“It is extremely difficult to concentrate [on prayers], especially when children cry for food. I sometimes feel extremely helpless, but I hope that one day Allah will listen to our prayers,” Jamal told Al Jazeera.

Afghans celebrated Eid al-Fitr on Sunday [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

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