For the whole of history, people have lived in caves in Afghanistan. Many people had no choice but to take up residence in one, and in central Bamiyan province many families find themselves forgotten and starving.
“I have been living here in this cave for years. Lately, we have lived day and night without fuel or food,” said 50-year-old Zarifa Gull Ahmad. Ahmad’s husband is disabled and she claims that her family is the most deprived in a region of many poor households.
“We have no food to eat and no money to buy any. There are nine of us, and our only food is dry naan,” said Ahmad.
After the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan after 20 years of presence in the country, more than 22 million out of some 35 million Afghans are facing acute food shortages, according to aid agency reports.
“My 13-year-old son works on the streets and earns 30 to 40 afghanis (about $0.5) a day to buy naan,” she said.
“I will not let him go to school because he has to work and support our family,” Ahmad added.
US President Joe Biden has reportedly split $7 billion worth of frozen Afghan assets equally between the families of victims of 9/11 and humanitarian assistance for Afghans, a decision that has been almost universally condemned.
“I am the only breadwinner of my family. My husband is a drug addict who left home long ago,” another cave dweller Noria, 30, told Xinhua.
“My children and I have to work every day to survive,” said Noria who gets money by cleaning houses, and washing clothes and carpets.
“I do laundry and carpet cleaning and sometimes people help me with food. I am working to earn a bit more than 100 afghanis each day.
“Once I got a bag of flour, 14 kilogrammes of beans and peas, and a bottle of cooking oil from a non-governmental organisation.”
In Bamiyan province, once home to the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan which were destroyed in 2001, there are thousands of caves that accommodated monks’ centuries ago, and are currently serving as shelters for thousands.
“I work as a labourer. I used to earn 400 afghanis each day but nowadays it’s more like 200 afghanis,” said 37-year-old Hassan, head of an eight-member family.
Hassan, who looks older than his real age, said, “It is winter season and I have not worked for three months. Often my family’s only meal is pieces of naan, sometimes rice, but never meat or fruit.” ($1 equals about 88.4 afghanis)
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US leaves behind picturesque town in poverty
Once a popular destination for tourists, the picturesque Bamiyan province in Afghanistan’s central region enjoys peaceful environment, but suffers from poverty as elders and teenagers are working to earn their living.
“I am a daily wager but can’t find work every day. If (I) work one day, the second day will be jobless because of the poor economy and the worst economy has drastically reduced job opportunities,” said 60-year-old Habibullah. “I can hardly earn 150 – 200 afghani (about $2) per working day, while the price hike has sandwiched the poor people,” he said.
Bamiyan, like other parts of Afghanistan, has been suffering from poverty since the withdrawal of the US-led forces in August, 2021.
Following the military defeat in Afghanistan, Washington has frozen nearly $10 billion in assets of Afghanistan’s central bank, leading to worsening economic problems and poverty in the war-torn country.
US President Joe Biden has reportedly split $7 billion worth of frozen Afghan assets equally between the families of victims of 9/11 and the humanitarian assistance for Afghans, a decision that has been widely condemned.
More than 22 million Afghans out of some 35 million of the country’s population are facing acute food shortages and the war-torn country would face humanitarian catastrophe if not assisted, according to aid agencies’ reports.
“Foreigners who came to Bamiyan during the US-led forces presence in Afghanistan took their money back with their returns to their homelands and that is why food prices have gone up in the market and poor people have no money to buy food,” Habibullah said. “I am in the fifth grade of school but the poverty has forced me to abandon school and work on the streets to earn bread for my family,” said 14-year-old Mahdi. With a daily income of 100 afghanis (about $1), he said it is difficult to feed his 10-member family.
The central Bamiyan province, with its beautiful landscape and historical monuments including giant Buddhas, is among the poorest provinces of Afghanistan as cave dwellers still exist there, although it has reported no security incident over the past year. “You can visit the mountains and valleys in all parts of Bamiyan without worrying about security,” Governor of Bamiyan province Abdullah Sarhadi said, calling for foreign help in building infrastructures and economic development.
Security alone is not enough, said another Bamiyan inhabitant Najibullah, 25, adding that local people need a stable economy.