Day laborer Mohammad Zia and his family are the faces of the hunger crisis gripping Afghanistan since the Taliban took over and the economy started imploding.
Zia says he hasn’t found work for weeks and can’t buy food.
“It’s been around two months now since I’ve taken meat or proper food home,” he said.
“My children and I are just filling our stomachs with bread and water.”
The story is similar for Najiba, a 41-year-old widow whose family was displaced by the conflict in the north of the country.
She told Asia Times they had 1 kilo of cooking oil but haven’t used it for 17 days, fearing that guests will visit them. “We were just having boiled water and bread all this time.”
Internally displaced families in Kabul speak of not being able to afford milk and medicine for their infants and ill children.
Kabul resident and former government employee Mohammad Yasir said his family can afford only some food.
“If we have money to buy flour, we cannot buy rice and cooking oil,” he said. “Most of the time we try to suffice with locally available low-cost vegetables.”
As the country is pushed into a devastating humanitarian crisis on top of a severe drought threatening the livelihood of millions of people and with a harsh winter just a few months away, more and more Afghan families are expected to be affected by the shortage of food and rapidly rising prices.
For the past 20 years of the US occupation, Afghanistan’s economy has largely been dependent on foreign aid. The US-backed former government depended on international donors to fund more than half its annual budget.
Since the Taliban takeover in August, Afghanistan has been on verge of economic collapse leading to the worsening of an already devastating humanitarian catastrophe across the country.
More than half the population is already in need of humanitarian support.
Food prices have risen by more than 30% in the last two months, leaving households unable to afford basic items.
The price of a 16-liter pack of cooking oil went up from 1,920 Afghanis (roughly US$21) in August to 2,500 Afghanis (about $28) now. Wholesale food traders in Kabul say cooking oil prices have risen the most, partly because prices have gone high globally.
In addition, a 50-kilo bag of flour would cost around 1,800 Afghanis before the Taliban came to power. The same will cost up to 2,200 Afghanis today.
In Kabul, 7 kilos of sugar now cost 420 Afghanis, while before August 15 the same amount would be 320 Afghanis.
Sher Mohammad Niazi, a wholesale food trader in Kabul, considers the drop of the Afghan currency’s value against dollars and the restrictions imposed on banking transactions as the main causes of the recent hike in prices.
“The Afghani is losing its value against the US dollar every day as Afghanistan’s money has been frozen,” Niazi said.
“Traders are also not able to do financial transactions to outside of the country because of the restrictions on the banking system so they send money to their suppliers through hawala (informal money transfer system), which is a lot more costly.”
Traders in Kabul also told Asia Times that the Taliban increased the import taxes despite the initial reduction of taxes on all goods during the first days of their takeover.
However, Niazi believes that with the restoration of the banking sector, prices are more likely to go down.
Kabul retailer Noor Agha told Asia Times he used to make 800 to 1,000 Afghani sales on average every day but nowadays the volume of sales hardly reaches 500 Afghanis. “Many people lost their jobs. Salaries are not paid for months and it is difficult to get cash out from the banks.”
Noor Agha says his customers now limit themselves to essentials.
“The world should recognize the new government and unfreeze the country’s money so that employees’ salaries can be paid and banks can function as before,” Noor Agha says.
At the same time, the country’s locally produced fruit and vegetables are sold more cheaply in domestic markets as access to international markets is reduced.
The UN Development Program predicts that 97% to 98% of the Afghan population will most likely face “universal poverty” by the middle of 2022 if the humanitarian issues are not addressed on time.
One in three Afghans are acutely hungry, according to the World Food Program, while 93% of the population reported insufficient food consumption in September.
Even before the downfall of the former Afghan government on August 15, Afghanistan was facing daunting economic challenges.
According to the World Bank, “rapid reduction in international grant support, loss of access to offshore assets and disruption to financial linkages are expected to lead to a major contraction in economy,” which will increase poverty and hunger throughout the country.
Meanwhile, the United Nation Development Program warned that 97% of the Afghan population could fall below the poverty line by next year if the country’s economic problems are not addressed promptly.
Afghan business expert Tayeb Khan points to several reasons for the increase in prices of commodities.
“Due to the closure of several border points and suppression of major financial institutions, the cost of raw materials increases, which directly affects the prices,” he said.
“The loss of currency’s value also impacts prices as we do most of the imports in dollars while selling it in Afghani in domestic markets.”
The freezing of Afghanistan’s assets by the US caused a major loss in the value of the Afghani against the dollar.
Khan believes that the restrictions on the banking system in Afghanistan forced industries to stop production. This led to importing further supplies from outside the country, which automatically increases prices.