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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Yalda Hakim: My return to Afghanistan


BBC presenter Yalda Hakim was born in Afghanistan. Her family fled in the 1980s, during the Soviet occupation, but she has regularly reported from the country since. Now she has returned for the first time since the Taliban seized power 100 days ago.

I knew that my first trip back to my birth country since the Taliban took power in August would raise a lot of questions for me.

How much has changed in the country since the Taliban deposed the Western-backed government? Will the Afghan people finally be able to live in peace? What would be the future of women and girls who are already being pushed out of public life by their new rulers?

But there was one question I hadn’t expected to ask myself. What kind of fortitude is required to show up to work day after day, week after week, month after increasingly bleak month, without being paid?

But that is exactly what I discovered. From Kandahar healthcare workers to Kabul hospital cleaners, no one in Afghanistan’s public healthcare system has been paid since the government fell and foreign aid ceased.

Despite this, they continue to show up for work, caring for an increasingly desperate population as they themselves approach the abyss.

Hospital workers have not been paid in months

Nasreen is a cleaner at the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul, the capital.

“These babies will die if we don’t come to work; how can we abandon them?” she asks.

The ward must be as clean as possible to prevent infections among the patients, the majority of whom are weak and severely malnourished.

Nasreen claims she cannot afford transportation, so she walks to work, an arduous commute down the side of one of the many mountains, and then treks back up after a 12-hour shift.

Regardless of how bad the situation is for healthcare workers, the patients they care for are in a much worse situation.

According to the United Nations, nearly 23 million Afghans are on the verge of starvation. Ninety-five percent of the population does not have enough food.

The youngest victims of the crisis are seen on the wards that Nasreen keeps clean. Gulnara, three years old, is in such poor health that she can barely keep her eyes open. Her eyes are sunken, her hair is thinning, and she cries in pain when she appears to wake up.

This is what severe malnutrition is doing to Afghanistan’s children.

Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesperson, blames the international community for the Afghan people’s suffering, claiming that the West’s actions are to blame.

“If they are claiming that this country is on the verge of disaster, starvation, and a humanitarian crisis, then it is their responsibility to take appropriate action to prevent all of these tragedies.”

“The international community and other countries that talk about human rights… should reconsider taking steps that will lead to a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan,” he adds.

Whether or not you agree with his assessment of who is to blame, most observers agree that international funding will be required to solve this problem.

This is most evident when it comes to the economy. The economy imploded when the international aid faucets were turned off.

“I used to work at the brick kilns,” one man tells me while waiting for work on the streets. ” My monthly salary was 25,000 afghanis ($270). I can’t even make 2,000 ($22) per month anymore.

All four of his children are sick at home, and he has no money to buy medicine.

“I don’t see a future, and poor families don’t have a future,” he says.

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