‘Our children are hungry’: economic crisis pushes Afghans to desperation | Global development

Yasemeen sits in the back of an open trailer with a bundle of her family’s old clothes wrapped in scarves and some used notebooks already full of a child’s handwriting. The vehicle pulls over in a busy roundabout in central Mazar-e-Sharif, a city that until the Taliban takeover last month was known as the economic powerhouse of northern Afghanistan.

Now, it is a scene of desperation as Afghanistan’s economic crisis sends ordinary people like Yasemeen on to the street to sell their last possessions.

As Yasemeen lifts the hem of her burqa slightly to climb off the trailer, young men quickly gather around to help unload the goods. They may be meagre, but her only hope is to sell them to make enough money to send family members to Kabul to find work. Her husband, a painter and decorator, has been unemployed for months.

“Our men are sitting at home, and our children are hungry,” says Yasemeen, who only agrees to give her first name.

Her family is just one of many that have taken to the streets to try to raise much-needed cash. On the side of the road it looks as if entire homes have been emptied on to the asphalt, where teapots, cushions, books and teddy bears have been hastily laid out for sale.

A second hand market where people sell their worldly belongings in Mazar-e-Sharif.
A second hand market where people sell their worldly belongings in Mazar-e-Sharif. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Since the Taliban takeover of Kabul on 15 August, concerns over financial collapse have risen in Afghanistan. With banks closed for weeks and ATMs out of cash, even those Afghans with savings haven’t been able to take out their money. Fear of the new order in the streets, where Taliban fighters now patrol, have made many people decide to spend more time at home, forcing shops and restaurants to close.

In the vacuum between the old government and the new Taliban administration, many state employees are not being paid. Even before the Taliban took control of the country, about half the population, 18 million people, was dependent on humanitarian aid to survive, according to the United Nations.

After the Taliban takeover, the UN secretary general António Guterres warned of a humanitarian catastrophe looming in Afghanistan. The new level of economic hardship is clearly visible in the streets of Mazar-e-Sharif.

On a dusty asphalt strip between two busy lanes of traffic, Haji Nader, 70, sits next to a pile of kitchenware spread out on a dusty piece of cloth. He buys his goods from families who need money for food or who are trying to raise capital to flee the country, he says.

“These things used to belong to families who want to go to Turkey, Europe or Canada. A lot of people are trying to leave now,” Haji says from under the shade of an umbrella. “The new government should create jobs for the citizens because people are very poor. You see them here trying to sell their things just to be able to buy four or five pieces of bread.”

Afghanistan’s fragile economy is dependent on foreign aid. The World Bank and IMF both halted funding for their projects in the country in response to the Taliban gaining control of the capital.

“We are deeply concerned about the situation in Afghanistan and the impact on the country’s development prospects, especially for women,” said World Bank spokesperson Marcela Sanchez-Bender to CNN Business after the insurgent group took Kabul.

But many Afghans believe that cutting Afghanistan off from international economic support will impact ordinary people, rather than the Taliban. According to the World Bank, foreign economic support covers 75% of public spending. Already government employees such as teachers and nurses say they are not getting paid by the new Taliban administration, which is yet to announce a formal government structure.

“I don’t care if the Taliban forces me to wear a burqa. I’m Afghan, I wear burqa and hijab anyway,” says Shaparak, a mother of 10, adding: “The problem now is that nobody in this country has a job”.

She is chatting to some friends in a small shop selling hairspray, buttons, teapots and scarfs. The owner of the shop, 34-year-old Maryam, says business has been slow for several months, and has taken a significant blow since the Taliban takeover of the city on 14 August, the day before the group took control of Kabul.

“The US and other countries only took the rich people with them. The rest of us are still here, they left us in poverty,” Maryam says.

Like many women, she worries what kind of new laws the Taliban is going to implement and how they will influence women’s lives. However, she does not plan to shut down her shop and has not changed the way she dresses.

“If the Taliban stops women from working, maybe we will stand against them, because we need to work. Who would not like to relax at home with enough money, not having to work? But I work for my child, I have to work,” she says.