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Desperate Afghans;  Taliban facing economic ruin

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Desperate Afghans; Taliban facing economic ruin

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – The freezing cold of the Afghan winter causes small children to cuddle under blankets in makeshift camps. Sick babies in hospitals are wrapped in their mother’s burqa. Long lines at food distribution centers have become overwhelming as Afghanistan descends deeper into desperate times.

Since the chaotic takeover of Kabul on August 15 by the Taliban, an already war-torn economy, once kept alive by international donations alone, is now on the verge of collapse. There is not enough money for hospitals.

Saliha, who like many Afghans uses only one name, took her baby to Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in the capital, Kabul. Weak and fragile, Najeeb, 4 months old, suffered from severe malnutrition.

The World Health Organization warns of millions of malnourished children, and the United Nations says 97% of Afghans will soon be living below the poverty line.

For millions of people living in IDP camps or sitting outside government ministries in search of help, the only source of warmth is to snuggle around open log fires.

Almost 80% of the previous Afghan government’s budget came from the international community. This money, now cut, has financed hospitals, schools, factories and ministries. In Taliban Afghanistan, there is no money. Sanctions have crippled banks as the UN, US and others struggle to find a way to get hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to Afghans while bypassing the Taliban, albeit there is no immediate sign of the widespread corruption that characterized the previous administration.

For many of the poorest Afghans, bread is their only staple food. Women line up in front of town bakeries, young children arrive before dawn to look for bread. The majority scramble to find food and fuel. The statistics provided by the UN are grim: nearly 24 million people in Afghanistan, or about 60% of the population, suffer from acute hunger. As many as 8.7 million Afghans face famine.

School for girls under the Taliban is irregular and in many provinces they are not allowed to attend school after the sixth grade, but in more than 10 provinces schools are open. The international community is working on ways to help open schools while encouraging the Taliban to open others.

In some areas, such as western Herat province, teachers and parents together coax local Taliban leaders into opening schools. In schools like Tajrobawai Girls’ High School in Herat, this is paying off.

Months ago, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees warned of a mass exodus of Afghans if Afghanistan was allowed to plummet into an economic abyss.

The exodus has already started as thousands of people leave Afghanistan for Iran in desperation. By the hundreds, they pack buses that take them from Herat to the neighboring province of Nimroz, from where they make the dangerous journey to Iran. Some hope to go further, to Turkey and possibly Europe, despite Europe’s growing determination to keep migrants out.

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