IN THIS WEEK’S ISSUE

Afghan mothers are giving sleeping pills to their children to forget hunger

Logan D Suza

Sohela is one of the 10 million people who have been cut off from emergency aid from the United Nations World Food Program for the past year. This is a major blow to the estimated two million women-headed households in Afghanistan.

“The last time I was able to buy milk for my little girl was two months ago. Now pour tea in her milk bottle. Sometimes we dip bread in tea and feed the girl,’ said Sohela Niazi, a resident of the eastern suburbs of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.

The mother said her words sitting on the floor of the brick house on the hill. There is no road to his house. To get there one has to walk over a steep, muddy path. The dirty water of the sewer is flowing from the side. Sohela lost her husband. He has six children. The youngest of whom is a 15-month-old daughter. The baby’s name is Husna Fakeri.

The tea Sohela was referring to is a traditional drink of Afghanistan. This tea is made from green leaves and hot water. It contains no milk or sugar. This tea does not contain any baby nutrients.

Sohela is one of the 10 million people who have been cut off from emergency aid from the United Nations World Food Program for the past year. This is a major blow to the estimated two million women-headed households in Afghanistan.

The mother of six said she could not go outside to work during the Taliban regime. So he cannot provide food for the family members.

There have been many nights when we had nothing to eat. I told the children, who will I ask for at night? One time they fell asleep with hunger in their stomachs.

“And when they woke up, I asked myself, ‘What should I do now!'” Whenever a neighbor brought some food, the children shouted, “Give me, give me”. I try to share food between them to calm them down,’ he said.

He also gave ‘ghum parani’ medicine to calm the starving daughter. I give it so that the girl does not wake up and ask for milk. Because I don’t have milk to give him. After giving the medicine, he sleeps from one morning to the next morning. Sometimes I check whether he is alive or dead,’ said Sohela Niazi.

Inquiring about the medicine he is giving the girl, it is revealed that it is a common antihistamine or anti-allergy medicine, which has a side effect of drowsiness. Although the drug is less harmful than tranquilizers and anti-depressants, doctors say, many Afghan parents give it to their hungry children. However, if consumed in excess, it can cause respiratory problems.

Sohela Niazi said that her husband is a civilian. In 2022, he was killed in a firefight between Taliban forces and their opponents in Panjshir province. After her husband’s death, she became heavily dependent on donations (mainly flour, oil and beans) sent by the United Nations World Food Program.

The United Nations World Food Program says they are only able to feed three million people; That’s less than a quarter of people who struggle with severe hunger. The helpless mother with six children is now completely dependent on help from relatives or neighbours.

The 15-month-old girl is very malnourished. According to the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF, more than 3 million children in Afghanistan suffer from malnutrition like Husna. A quarter of malnourished children in the country are severely malnourished. According to the United Nations, this is the worst situation ever in Afghanistan.

At a time when malnutrition is ravaging the country’s children, the funding that kept the health service from collapsing has also been withdrawn. Since 2021, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been paying the salaries of Afghan health workers since Afghanistan was retaken by the Taliban. And at the same time they also provided medicine and food to more than 30 hospitals.

But now they don’t have enough resources to continue, and foreign aid has been withdrawn from most health centers in Afghanistan. The only children’s hospital there, the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul, is also on the list.

“Now the government pays the salaries of doctors and nurses and each of them has been halved,” said doctor Mohammad Iqbal Sadiq. He is the director of the children’s hospital, who was recruited by the Taliban.

The hospital has also closed its outpatient department. Hospitalization is required, only those patients are being served. The ward allocated for the treatment of malnourished children is full. Sometimes more than one child has to be kept in the same bed.

Sumaiya is sitting upright on a bed in a corner of the children’s ward. He is 14 months old. But the weight is like a newborn baby. His little face was wrinkled like an old man’s. Next to him is Muhammad Shafi. At 18 months he weighs exactly half of what he should be. Muhammad Shafi’s father was a Taliban fighter. Who died in a road accident. Muhammad Shafi lost his mother due to illness.

His old grandmother Hayat Bibi approached us while passing by his bed. He wants to talk to us. Hayat Bibi said the Taliban helped bring her grandson to the hospital. But he doesn’t know what will happen next.

I am relying on God’s mercy. I have nowhere else to go. I am totally disoriented,’ Hayat Bibi said. His eyes are swollen from crying. “I have some problems of my own. So much pain in the head, that it seems that it will burst right away,’ he said.

We asked Zabihullah Mujahid, the main spokesman for the Taliban government, what talks they are having at the international level to bring in donations. He said that the economic condition of the countries that send donations is not good. That’s why donations have decreased. Covid and the war in Ukraine are the two major disasters that the world has to face. So can’t expect help from them. Even talking won’t help.

According to Zabihullah Mujahid, we must be self-reliant. Our economy has stabilized and we are leasing mines that will create thousands of jobs. But I am not saying that aid should be stopped. Because we still have many hurdles ahead of us.

But does he realize that the Taliban’s policies are also a problem and that donor countries don’t want to give money to a country where the government imposes strict restrictions on women?

In response, Zabihullah Mujahid said that if aid is used as a tool of pressure, then the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has its own values and will protect them at any cost. Afghans have made many sacrifices in the past to protect our values and will accept a drop in aid.

Zabihullah Mujahid’s comments, however, will not comfort many Afghans. Because two-thirds of Afghanistan’s people don’t know where their food will come from next.

We meet a woman in a cold, damp, one-room house on the streets of Kabul. who said the Taliban prevented him from selling fruits, vegetables, socks and other items on the street. The woman, who did not wish to be named, also alleged that she was detained once. Her husband was killed during the war. He has four children.

He broke down while talking about his situation. He cried helplessly for several minutes. According to him, they (Taliban) should be allowed to earn a living to work and live honestly. I swear by Allah, we are not doing anything wrong. We go to earn only to feed the children. And they abuse us like this.

He was forced to send his 12-year-old son to work. That woman was saying, I asked a Taliban brother, what will I feed my children if I don’t work? In response, he said, poison if necessary, but do not leave the house!

At the same time, he also said that twice the Taliban government helped us financially. But it does not meet the requirements. Before the Taliban took over Kabul, three-quarters of government spending came from foreign grants. The money was given directly to the previous government. It was shut down in August 2021 which disrupted the economy.

Aid agencies stepped in to provide a temporary but vital aid. But they are no more. We have been seeing the same situation repeatedly for the past few years. It is difficult to describe the dire situation in Afghanistan. Millions of people survive on dry bread and water. Many of them may not be able to pass the next winter!

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