Afghan families surviving on bread and water through holy month as economic crisis worsens

Islam’s holy month of Ramadan is considered a time of celebration, compassion, and unity, but with the country’s economy near collapse, an increasing number of Afghan families are jobless, destitute and are resorting to desperate measures to feed their children.

Since the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021, living costs and food prices have skyrocketed, with a kilogram of wheat costing almost 45 percent more compared with June 2021[i]. The World Bank says incomes are likely to have fallen by around a third in the last months of 2021[ii]. Local media reported this week that a man set himself on fire in Dehmazang Square in Kabul due to the stress of economic pressures.

The war in Ukraine could further increase food prices and the cost of living in Afghanistan, with the World Food Program saying the country could be one of the most heavily impacted due to its dependency on wheat[iii].

Amara*, 44, says she’s shocked by the price of food and disheartened that she cannot provide for her eight children, especially during Ramadan. The increasing cost of food and lost income since her husband’s recent death has forced Amara to send her children to work on the streets. Her son makes US$ 0.72 a day carrying people’s bags.

“Most of the time the children go to bed hungry because of the high food prices,” Amara said. “The month of Ramadan means the costs are high and we often have nothing to break the fast with. I’m too scared now to ask how much the food costs in the market.

“Last year, Ramadan was better because my husband was working and provided money for food like meat, beans, lentils and even rice. This Ramadan is very difficult and it’s hard to find food that’s nutritious. It’s hard to pass the 10 hours (during fasting) without having had any good food.

“We are sick and anxious about how we will support ourselves. I wasn’t willing to force my children to work but when the situation gets worse, when there’s no money and we have nothing to eat, I have to send them to work.

“I’m sick of this situation. Why should I send my daughter to sell things on the streets? It tears my heart out. It’s so hard. I wish I could send them to school. [The children] are anxious and suffering mentally. This is the impact of not having enough to eat.”

Maryam*, 32, said her family’s income has dropped dramatically since last August. They can no longer afford to pay their rent and their entire income goes towards buying food.

“Before the collapse, [my husband] would come home each night with plastic bags full of fresh fruit and vegetables. But now, he comes home empty-handed. The children feel their food has been taken away from them. I would never wish this Ramadan on anyone else. I hope this Ramadan never repeats again.”

Afghanistan is facing its worst food crisis since records began. Half the population – 23 million people, including 14 million children – expected to face hunger this year, an alarming increase since last August.

Children are the most vulnerable during a hunger crisis. Without enough food and the right nutrition, they can become malnourished which can lead to illness, infections, stunting and death.

Save the Children’s Country Director in Afghanistan, Chris Nyamandi, said:

“Ramadan is drastically different for many families in Afghanistan this year. At the end of a day of fasting, families would usually eat a meal together called Iftar, where several dishes would be shared. However, parents tell us they’re distraught that they cannot provide the usual Iftar meal for their children and that sometimes they are only eating bread after fasting for more than 12 hours.

“Even before Ramadan, many families struggled to provide three meals a day for their children and have been forced to skip meals, reduce portion sizes or remove nutritious foods such as fruit and vegetables from their diet.

“It’s incredibly hard to fathom how the world can stand by and watch as one of the worst hunger crises unfolds. Our clinics are full each day with children who are just skin and bone, and our doctors spend sleepless nights trying to work out how they can save them. Solutions do exist and the world must act now.

“International governments must provide urgent humanitarian funding, release frozen assets into Afghanistan’s economy and work to stabilise key pillars of the financial system.”

Save the Children has been supporting communities and protecting children’s rights across Afghanistan since 1976, including during periods of conflict, regime change, and natural disasters. The agency has programmes in 10 provinces and works with partners in an additional three provinces. Since the crisis escalated in August 2021, Save the Children has been scaling up its response to support the increasing number of children in need, delivering health, food security, nutrition, child protection and education programmes.

*Names changed to protect identity.

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