An already ailing economy that has been hard hit by a prolonged drought and with the Taliban at the helm, Afghanistan's future is looking bleak.
The Taliban, which is still struggling for international recognition in the wake of its seizure of power in mid-August, is struggling to grasp Afghanistan's deteriorating situation — and it is the poor who are paying the highest price.
"The COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing food crisis and the onset of winter have further exacerbated the situation for families," according to a recently published report by UNICEF, the United Nations agency responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide. "In 2020, almost half of Afghanistan's population was so poor that they lacked necessities such as basic nutrition or clean water." And this is before the recent upheaval.
Mohammad Ibrahim, a resident of Kabul, is one of many who has no other option than to offer his seven-year-old daughter Jamila for the debt his family owe. "A person came and told me to either pay the debt or 'I will bring your home to ashes,'" Ibrahim told DW. But he was offered the chance to "give up his daughter," in order to pay his debt.
"The man was a rich person," he continued. "And I had no other option and I accepted to offer my child in return for 65,000 Afghanis (nearly €620, $700) of debt."
According to UNICEF, millions of children continue to need essential services, including primary healthcare, lifesaving vaccines against polio and measles, nutrition, education, protection, shelter, water and sanitation.
UN: Over half of Afghanistan in poverty
The UN's World Food Program (WFP) estimates that over half of Afghanistan's population lives below the poverty line, and food insecurity is on the rise, largely due to conflict and insecurity cutting off whole communities. The WFP says that an estimated 22.8 million people out of Afghanistan's near 35 million population are identified as acutely food insecure, including hundreds of thousands who have been displaced by conflict since the beginning of the year.
"It's hard to offer your child for debt. We had nothing else to offer except our own child," said Nazo, the mother of seven-year-old Jamila, who was traded for family debt.
Following the collapse of the previous Afghan government, suicide attempts are also on the rise and citizens are even more vulnerable to psychological and mental illnesses. Poverty is on the rise, and the absence of the color and crowds from the previously bright and bustling streets of Kabul make it more notable.
Daughters for survival
In the western Badghis province of Afghanistan, people have been hit hard by long droughts and been forced to leave their homes and villages. Najeeba, a young girl who lives in a camp, has been traded by her family in return for 50,000 Afghanis.
"It's very cold during the night and we have nothing to make our homes warm. We want NGOs to help us," Najeeba told DW. "I am still a girl. I have two brothers, a sister and a mother. I do not want to get married and want to study and get educated instead," she added.
While the new rulers of Afghanistan are still struggling for international recognition and preventing the country's economic collapse, international welfare organizations are calling for immediate humanitarian aid.
'The time to act is now,' says UN
Earlier this week, WFP Executive Director David Beasley called for immediate and generous support at a high-level meeting in Geneva.
"The time is now, we cannot wait six months, we need the funds immediately so we can move the supplies, to pre-position before the winter sets in," he said. "We cannot turn our back on the people of Afghanistan."
Gul Ahmad, who is the father of Najeeba, sees no other option than to sell his other daughters to make ends meet. "I have no other option and if we are abandoned I will be forced to sell my other daughters for 50, 30 or even 20 thousand Afghanis."
The human toll of spiraling hostilities still remains immense in Afghanistan. The UN is particularly worried about the impact of the conflict on women and girls. Some 80% of nearly a quarter of a million Afghans forced to flee since the end of May are women and children.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), from January 1 this year to October 18, 667,903 individuals fled their homes due to conflict. A total of 33 out of 34 provinces had recorded some level of forced displacement.
Some feel suicide is the only option
While unemployment soars in Afgahnistan and income sources have dried for many, some people opt to commit suicide and put an end to their struggles. Rohullah, a 60-year-old guard for a government-run school in northern Badakhshan, and a father who had not received his salary for the past three months, is someone who took that desperate option, leaving a grieving family behind.
Taiba, daughter of Rohullah, told DW: "He did not say anything. One day we were all home and he asked for a pen and paper to write down the debts we owe. We all thought he is kidding with us but he was serious and some days later he committed suicide." Qatiba, another daughter of Mohibullah told DW: "We face a lot of problems and since our father died, we have nothing to eat."
Afghanistan's economy will shrink by up to 30% this year, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Afghanistan's GDP in 2020 was only around $20 billion. And according to the World Bank, 43% of that was based on aid money from abroad. Before the Taliban takeover, 75% of public spending came from foreign aid grants.
The departure of foreign forces and many international donors has left the country without the grants that financed three quarters of public spending.
Over the past few months, the new Taliban government has struggled to pay salaries owed to civil servants while food prices have soared and banks have faced a cash crunch.
Many Afghans are selling possessions to buy food. Gul Ahmad's only remaining valuables are his other daughters, who may face a similar fate to their older sibling, unless Afghans receive help from the outside world.
Edited by: John Silk