From teacher to shoe shiner: the Afghan economic crisis spares little


KABUL, December 10 (Reuters) – In the biting cold of an autumn in Kabul, Hadia Ahmadi, a 43-year-old teacher who lost her job after the Taliban captured the Afghan capital in August, sits on the edge of the road to try to earn the equivalent of a few cents to shine shoes.

The abrupt withdrawal of foreign aid following the victory of the Taliban brought down Afghanistan’s fragile economy, leaving millions of people facing hunger and the misery of once-affluent middle-class families.

“I turned to shoe shine when I saw my children were hungry,” said Ahmadi, a mother of five who refused to give her last name.

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The economy has long rested on shaky foundations, dependent on aid that has now disappeared, and with huge gaps between Kabul’s elite and millions of people living just above the poverty line.

Ahmadi’s family characterized the progress made by part of society during the 20 years of Western-backed rule.

After a decade of teaching, with a husband employed as a cook in a private company and a daughter with a clerk job in a government agency, they experienced modest prosperity that was wiped out within weeks.

With girls’ schools closed indefinitely, her job had to cease first, and her husband and then her daughter lost theirs shortly thereafter. A computer science student son was forced to drop out of school when the family could no longer afford school fees.

Roadside stands of household items for sale have sprung up across Kabul as families attempt to raise funds for food. They bear witness to how common Ahmadi’s experiences have become, with people taking once unimaginable steps to survive.

“We are going hungry for days right now, and right now there is no one in our family who could support all of us financially,” she said.

The United Nations has warned of a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan and is trying to raise $ 4.5 billion to avert the worst, but with foreign aid stranded and the banking system on the brink of collapse, the economy has been strangled by a lack of liquidity.

The Taliban did not allow women to work outside the home when they were in power between 1996 and 2001 and severely limited employment opportunities for women. But for many like Ahmadi, there is no alternative.

“Some widows are the only providers of food for their families, while some women want to financially support their husbands,” she said. “The Taliban must allow women to go to work. They must provide them with jobs, there are no jobs at the moment.”

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Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Mike Collett-White

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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