Afghans express growing concerns over deteriorating economic situation

By Ehsanullah

Afghan women collect free bread from a charity during the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Kabul on April 13. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

Afghan women collect free bread from a charity during the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Kabul on April 13. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

KABUL – Afghans are increasingly expressing their concerns over rising unemployment and widespread poverty amid an economic situation that is deteriorating with each passing day.

The decline in customer purchasing power has resulted in stagnating business, said Faqir Mohammad Mohammadi, a 35-year-old shopkeeper in Kabul's Ahmad Shahai market.

"We have a cosmetics shop, and our sales have decreased immensely because what everyone thinks about is finding a piece of bread ... fewer people come to buy shampoo, soap and other cosmetics," said Mohammadi.

Since August 2021, his daily sales have fallen from 50,000–90,000 AFN ($579 to $1,043) to 500–1,000 AFN ($6 to $12).

"In reality, our income is not sufficient to cover our lunch or transport expenses," he added.

"All shopkeepers in the Ahmad Shahai market are very concerned, and if the current situation continues and does not improve in the short term ... we will not be able to continue our business," said Mohammadi.

Mohammad Reza, a fruit seller in Pul-e-Surkh in Kabul City’s Police District 6, said that his sales have decreased significantly since 2021.

"Our sales were between 5,000 and 10,000 AFN [$58 and $116] daily ... however, we are just making between 1,000 and 1,500 AFN [$12 and $17] nowadays," he told Salaam Times.

"Our customers used to buy an unpacked carton of apples. However, they are now buying only a kilo or half a kilo of apples because they cannot afford it," added Reza.

"Unfortunately, because of the decrease in sales, sometimes our fruits decay, and we suffer a loss instead of making any profit," he said.

Increasing poverty

The economic situation could deteriorate further, Khairullah Hashimi, an economic analyst based in Türkiye, told Salaam Times.

"[Afghanistan's] economic cycle has stalled from the unemployment of hundreds of thousands of people, and all of society has been impacted by its effects," he added.

"Unemployment has hit schoolteachers, university professors, employees of nongovernmental organisations [NGOs], journalists and workers of private companies," he said.

"Additionally, even though some [Afghans] have jobs, they do not make enough income. These situations have all contributed to the stagnation of the market," said Hashimi.

Restrictions on local and international relief organisations will further exacerbate economic conditions in the country, according to Mustafa Nazari, an Afghan analyst based in the United Arab Emirates.

Foreign NGOs still providing vital help were dealt a blow in December last year when Afghan women were barred from working for them.

The curb was extended this month to the UN's Afghan female employees, and the organisation said it faces an "appalling choice" over whether to continue its aid schemes.

"Many households struggle with poverty and hunger, and for some of them, it is very difficult to find one or two meals a day," said Nazari.

Grim assessments

Estimates from the United Nations (UN) have been equally dire.

About 34 million Afghans are living below the poverty line, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) said April 18.

"Nearly 20 million people [were estimated] to be acutely food-insecure between November 2022 and March 2023, including more than 6 million people who are one step from famine," Phillipe Kropf, a World Food Programme (WFP) spokesperson based in Kabul, told Salaam Times in an email in mid-April.

"Four million people are acutely malnourished, including 3.2 million children under 5 years of age. The country is at the highest risk of famine in a quarter of a century and one in two families is in crisis-coping mode to survive," he wrote.

"Since August 2022, nine out of 10 Afghan families cannot afford enough food -- the highest in the world. Currently, nearly 20 million Afghans do not know where their next meal will come from," he added.

"Catastrophic hunger knocks on Afghanistan's doors and unless humanitarian support is sustained, hundreds of thousands more Afghans will need assistance to survive. A massive two-thirds of the population -- more than 28 million people -- needs humanitarian assistance this year, 10 million more than two years ago," Kropf said.

This year, WFP plans to reach 21 million Afghans with lifesaving food, nutrition and livelihood support and, to do so, requires $800 million for the next six months, he said.

"Last year, WFP massively scaled up its assistance across Afghanistan thanks to funding from our generous donors, supporting 23 million people -- 12 million of whom were women and girls," he added.

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