Afghanistan sinks deeper into crisis as sanctions take heavy toll on civilians

Afghanistan has been a country in chaos since the U.S. withdrawal last August. One year on, nearly half of its people are facing hunger, 6 million of them are at risk of famine. The freeze on assets and international sanctions have crippled the Afghan economy. Health centers are overburdened, children are malnourished and doctors are helpless. Jane Ferguson has the story.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, Afghanistan has been a country in chaos since the U.S. withdrawal last August.

    One year on, nearly half of its people are facing hunger. Six million of them are at risk of famine. The freeze on assets and international sanctions have crippled the Afghan economy. Health centers are overburdened, children are malnourished, and doctors are helpless.

    Special correspondent Jane Ferguson has that story.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    The crowds gathering outside Kabul's bakeries grow daily. They are hungry and desperate, waiting in the rain for some compassion, staring at the fresh bread.

    Local people who have some money and will to share buy food for the bakery staff to hand out. It's a drop in an ocean of need. The United Nations is currently feeding half the population of Afghanistan, 20 million people.

  • Mary-Ellen McGroarty, Afghanistan Country Director, World Food Program:

    Six million of them are what we call one step away from famine-like conditions, six million people. That's more than the population of Ireland, where I'm from.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Mary-Ellen McGroarty is the U.N.'s World Food Program country director in Afghanistan.

    Afghanistan's economy continues to falter one year after the U.S. withdrawal and Taliban takeover. Mass unemployment followed the collapse of the Afghan government last August. Any savings are now long gone.

  • Mary-Ellen McGroarty:

    It's the urban population, as you said, the middle class, right, the teachers, the civil servants.

    I have gone out into towns and cities, and that's what I meet, is people who have never stood in a line for humanitarian assistance of any sort over decades of conflict, and now find themselves — who used to have a job. All they want is their job back.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    International sanctions and a freezing of the assets of Afghanistan's Central Bank make it near impossible for the economy to function normally.

    The country is run by an internationally recognized terrorist group, making its economy the victim of counterterror restrictions. Those still with savings cannot access them, and sending money to the country from abroad remains tough. Added to this, food price rises are making it harder for families to buy enough food.

  • Mary-Ellen McGroarty:

    You know, now, for the second month in a row, we have had to increase the cash — the cash amount that we are distributing to factor in price increases by 10 percent two months in a row, which is almost 20 percent.

    So, it is — it is — and then we are also having delays in the supply chain as well, so there is a knock-on effect from Ukraine in Afghanistan, both in food and fuel prices.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    It's here where the results of those increases can be seen, Kabul's Indira Gandhi Children's Hospital. Bed after bed is filled with malnourished, sick children.

    This 6-month-old boy has malnutrition that causes bloating. His grandmother, Razema, says his father has no work and they cannot afford baby formula. So, like many other poor families, they feed the baby cow's milk.

  • Atefa Kazemi, Nurse, Kabul’s Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital (through translator):

    The problem is, these families are poor, so they buy very low-quality milk, which the children can't properly digest. And so the children have diarrhea, and that eventually leads to malnutrition.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Nurse Atefa Kazemi and her colleagues can treat these children, but they cannot help the families buy food. So the children they help return, needing their care again.

  • Atefa Kazemi (through translator):

    After one month, we release them. But since they still can't afford the good milk, they go back to the low-quality milk, and, again, the children get diarrhea.

    And within 10 days, they are once again severely malnourished, and they have to be readmitted to the hospital. So many of our patients right now are on their second or third time at the hospital for treatment.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Afghans have innovated to help get more aid directly to families who need it. An Afghan American e-commerce start-up called Aseel pivoted as soon as the crisis hit a year ago, and now helps the diaspora abroad and any individual donor online send food and emergency aid to families in Kabul directly.

    Their team hires local drivers to deliver packages of baby formula, food, and basic medical supplies in over 30 provinces. Ihsan Hassan oversees the emergency response team in Kabul.

  • Ihsan Hassan (Aseel):

    If we have a package for 200 families, but you will see there are more than 1,000 families gathered there, and they are asking for the food packages. They are in great need.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    The need will only continue until Afghanistan's economy is able to function in the global community. That will depend on politicians and diplomats and the Taliban.

  • Mary-Ellen McGroarty:

    There are some very difficult conversations to be had around Afghanistan. As I said last year, I think we need to avoid collective punishment.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    One year on since the collapse of the Afghan state, the international community is no closer to figuring out how to help Afghans economically without empowering the Taliban's hard-liners.

    Until they do, millions will be forced to wait, hungry and running out of options.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jane Ferguson.

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