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Devastating Reality in Afghanistan: Local TV Reports Show Mothers Selling Their Children Because They Can’t Feed Them

We meet women who have drastically reduced eating so that their children can have food. We hear of families getting their children to work polishing shoes, collecting garbage, or begging in the streets to buy meals.

We meet women who have drastically reduced eating so that their children can have food. We hear of families getting their children to work polishing shoes, collecting garbage, or begging in the streets to buy meals.

It’s difficult to put into words the suffering that people are facing in my country of Afghanistan. I am seeing a human catastrophe escalating on a scale that I have never witnessed before.

As a medical doctor and health project coordinator for Islamic Relief – overseeing four mobile health teams in Nangarhar and Kabul – I am seeing crowds of people coming to us requiring urgent medical attention. 

People are starving, and it’s predicted that 97% of the population is at risk of sinking below the poverty line by mid-2022. Over three million children under five are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition by the end of the year as the threat of famine looms over our country, according to the UN.

What has been truly shocking for me is to see local TV reports showing mothers selling their children in order for the child to be fed and to help provide the parent with money for life-saving medical treatment.

For me, this is truly heartbreaking and I can’t find the words to express how this makes me feel as a father. To be forced into this terrible situation with no choice so your child can have food is something unimaginable to me and what no parent should ever have to go through.

The situation is worsening day by day and time is running out. As the winter approaches, there will be a huge loss of life, something that I cannot bear thinking about.

As a humanitarian worker, who has been working on the frontline in different conflicts over the last 10 years, this is one of the worst situations I have ever witnessed.

We are currently helping over 4,000 people with maternal healthcare and nutrition. We are also looking to provide lifesaving health services in Balkh and Nangarhar, which will help over 60,000 people with maternal health care, Covid-19 prevention awareness, and mental health counselling. We are aiming to provide food parcels to more than 11,000 families in the next few weeks. 

But we need to reach far more people.

We meet women who have drastically reduced eating so that their children can have food. We hear of families getting their children to work polishing shoes, collecting garbage, or begging in the streets to buy meals.

To find food, people in the country have been fleeing to other areas and have ended up in displacement camps, where we are now providing healthcare. 

It is very overwhelming, our health teams are frantically working non-stop to help people. We feel tired but are determined to continue our work.

The situation in the camps is truly awful. I meet people every day, who are suffering from hunger and malnutrition. I meet mothers who need medicine for urinary tract infections that only cost less than half a dollar and if they don’t get it, they will end up with kidney failure – but they simply cannot afford even this.

What is very painful for us is that we can help these people but the financial restrictions are not allowing us to reach more. 

International financial restrictions and sanctions – enacted in recent months as a result of the takeover of the Taliban – have led to a banking crisis inside the country whereby people can’t access their own salaries from the bank to be able to pay for their basic needs.

The restrictions are not only crippling people’s means to buy food, but they are also impacting the huge amount of aid that Afghanistan relies on. International aid agencies cannot operate fully to be able to respond to the unfolding crisis because they too cannot access funds.

Working in an emergency, aid agencies need to work quickly to help as many people in the most effective way and the financial restrictions are stopping us from reaching more people. Some of our staff are also not able to access their salaries because of the banking crisis, food prices have gone up drastically making the people helping the vulnerable at risk themselves. 

Assistance for healthcare previously funded by international donors was suspended, leaving over 2,000 health centres on the verge of closure and thousands of doctors and nurses not being paid.

A huge percentage of Afghans are now unable to access basic medicines, treatment, and health services and we’re now experiencing the fourth wave of Covid-19 hitting the country, with only four million vaccine doses given out to a population of almost 40 million.

There are also outbreaks of cholera across the country, which means already malnourished children are at risk of losing what little nutrients they had and dying due to a loss of fluids and salts – a situation that is completely avoidable with simple treatment. 

One of the worst affected areas with cholera in the country is the district of Sarubi.

In Kabul, I feel the cold nights, which will only get colder and I can’t imagine what this will be like for families without shelters and the provisions to keep them warm. Afghanistan has harsh and cold winters with mountainous areas dipping to as low as -25ºC, so there will be a huge loss of life if families don’t have basic insulation to keep warm.

I’m not worried for myself but I’m deeply worried about the future. Many people are leaving and as the situation grows more desperate I don’t know what will happen. Economic collapse will only breed further uncertainty. It’s hard to not be fearful. 

We are working on the ground and will be distributing food to families as well as blankets and winter clothes. However, many agencies that can provide help are not able to because of international financial restrictions put on Afghanistan’s banks since September.

We can reach and help many more people if we have the means, and the answer is simple: all parties must put the needs of the civilian Afghan people at the heart of all decision making and they must act fast.

The images on local TV news of mothers selling their children on street corners are hard to erase from my mind. It comes back to me every day, the pain and suffering that parents must be going through is a nightmare, something I simply can’t imagine or even want to think about. It is a helpless feeling but all we can do is continue our work to help as many people as possible.

To avoid a humanitarian catastrophe as hunger intensifies and winter closes in, financial restrictions must be eased and the UN and aid agencies like Islamic Relief need a significant boost in international aid to save lives.

You can donate to Islamic Relief UK’s Afghanistan Emergency appeal by visiting their website here.

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