Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Economy, Development, Environment

Living in a Collapsed Economy (2): Even the people who still have money are struggling

Martine van Bijlert AAN Team 33 min

In this second instalment of ‘Living in a Collapsed Economy,’ we seek to map what Afghanistan’s economic collapse means, at the household level, for the relatively fortunate – those who were wealthy to start with or had a diverse set of income streams, as well as those who still have a stable salary. We hear from a landlord and a relatively successful factory owner in Kabul, an NGO employee in Zabul, an extended family in Khost with a brother in Dubai, a former government employee in Badakhshan who lives with her in-laws, and the only ‘doctor’ in a remote and poor area of Daikundi. Although they all are in a better state than most, they also struggle to adapt to a much harsher reality. Most of them are no longer able to access their capital or make proper use of their investments, and all of them indicated that they are no longer able to help others like they used to. This is distressing, as it points to an unravelling of a critical part of Afghanistan’s social safety net – support provided by the relatively wealthy to others in need, within their families, neighbourhoods and communities – at a time when the country needs it most.

A man walks at a cattle market in Kabul on 10 November 2021. Photo by Hector RETAMAL/AFP.

For this research, we interviewed people across Afghanistan about their sources of income and expenses and how this had changed. We asked whether they had received aid. We wanted to know if they had helped anyone else, whether they had been forced to sell anything or take out loans and whether they had paid taxes recently. We asked what their plans were before the fall of the Republic and what they are now. In the first instalment of this series, we saw examples of families who had always struggled and were now at risk of being pushed over the edge. We featured the stories of others who had been doing all right but lost their income overnight and now lived in a collapsed economy, with no work, almost no cash flow and rapidly rising prices. For many, the only sustenance they had was what they could borrow, buy on credit, or scramble together by selling what they owned; in many cases, essential possessions like a car, a motorcycle or a cow. 

The picture that emerged begged the question: if so many families get by on what they can borrow or get on credit, who do they borrow from? Who is still doing relatively well? So for this instalment, we gathered the interviews of those who seemed to be doing better than others, either because they used to be wealthy, had a healthy range of income streams or, most importantly, continue to have a job that actually pays. It turned out that even these people were struggling. They too faced serious obstacles and setbacks and, in most cases, have had to cut down on their expenses drastically. Most of them are still not sure they can give their families what they need. 

First, we hear from the owner of a plastic melting factory. His business is doing well because his factory is part of a production chain that makes inexpensive shoes that are much more in demand than they used to be. But he still struggles to find the cash he needs to buy raw materials and he has cut down on his daily expenses. He is also unable to earn the money he needs to release the house he was forced to mortgage last year to buy out his partner. 

Second, we hear from an NGO employee in Qalat who is doing much better than the people around him because he has a fixed monthly income. Because of this, his extended family counts on him to pay their medical expenses. When his parents fell ill, he had to sell his car to pay for their treatment. We don’t know how much he earns or what he has in the bank, but he suffers from the bank’s withdrawal limits and fears that his NGO contract will soon end. Like the people with less money, he also buys and eats much less than he used to. 

Third, we hear from a landlord/entrepreneur who still has a regular job. He owns six houses, half of which still have tenants. (Most of his tenants used to work in the government and we know from other interviews that many former government employees have returned to their home provinces). The landlord has money in the bank, probably a large sum (he did not specify), which he cannot access. He too has cut back on his expenses. He no longer drives his car or invites friends over for parties. Like many businesspeople, he would like to leave the country if given a chance. 

Fourth, we hear from a former government employee in Paktika, whose extended family largely lives off the earnings of his brother’s struggling livestock business. The family has simplified their eating habits, like so many others, but does have money for winter clothes, notebooks and a course for the young brother. He had saved money to get married, but had to use his savings to pay for firewood and his mother’s large medical bill.

Fifth, we hear from a pregnant former government employee whose large extended (in-law) family briefly went from five incomes to one. Now they again have three sources of income. Although they are doing better than most, they are not able to help others –including the struggling family of her father. Also, reading between the lines, we can sense that she probably did not receive the nutrition she needed during her pregnancy. 

Sixth, we hear from a former reporter whose young family lives off the money his brother sends from the UAE, a dependence that greatly bothers him. Not all his expenses are covered by this money, so like many others, he has had to sell his motorcycle, in this case to pay for his daughter’s medical treatment. If nothing changes, he plans to join his brother in the UAE.

Finally, we meet the local ‘doctor’ in a remote corner of Daikundi. He struggles with dwindling income because most people can no longer pay for their treatment and as the only ‘doctor’ in the area, he cannot send them away. At the same time, the prices of medicine have increased and the sellers no longer send them on credit. He is doing better than the people around him, but he feels the strain of seeing so much suffering.

At the household level, these interviews are somewhat less bleak than those in the first instalment, but only slightly so. We see the same precariousness, the same lack of options and the same vulnerability to setbacks, like illnesses and medical emergencies. Most distressingly, these interviews show how Afghanistan’s social safety net is unravelling. Traditionally, based on cultural and religious norms, the wealthy shared within their communities, if not their actual wealth, then at least their surplus food or clothes. But since most of those who used to be rich have no access to their money, no regular and dependable profit and little trust in the future, most of them have reverted to mainly helping those closest to them, if they can help at all. 

This is not an economic crisis that mainly hits the poor and the vulnerable. It cannot be addressed by emergency food aid alone. At its most basic level, the economy needs its cash to flow again – salaries, bank assets, remittances – as soon as possible. 

Locations of the interviewees. Map by Roger Helms for AAN.

I. Owner of a plastic melting factory in Kabul city: “Our plastic shoes have become a fashion even in Kabul and among the Taleban”

I live with my wife, two sons and three daughters, seven people in one house. My eldest daughter is married and lives with her husband. We used to live in Sar-e Kotal (PD 17), but we moved to Khair Khana last year because of the many criminal incidents in the area. My son worked in a private hospital, but he left his job because the area wasn’t secure. He worked night shifts at the time and faced several threats from criminals. The other reason I moved last year was that I needed cash. My partner had decided to sell his share in our plastic melting factory, so I gave my house in geraw(collateral in exchange for cash, usually for a year). So now we’re renting and we’ve been moving from one house to another. I used to have a share in another factory too, but I had to give it up because of a dispute over corruption. I also have a share in a shop that sells sports equipment, but that doesn’t bring in much money now. These days, people don’t want to buy sports equipment, so the income from that is almost zero. 

But my plastic melting factory runs very well, there’s a huge demand for our products now, particularly the plastic shoes. In the past, we mostly sent them to the rural areas, but now the Taleban, and other people who used to buy our shoes, have come to the big cities. Another reason is that people can’t buy expensive shoes anymore, so the plastic shoes that used to be popular mostly in the rural areas are now a fashion even in Kabul and among the Taleban. 

The labour market has also dramatically changed. In the past, I paid workers 400-500 afghanis per day (around 5-6 USD, against the old exchange rate) and they were all from the rural areas. Now people work for 300 afghanis per day (currently worth around 2.70 USD). Many of them are educated and from Kabul. This shows how rapidly things have changed. I feel sorry for the many educated people who come to me ask for a job. It really makes me sad. 

Another change is that the raw materials we use have become very expensive, largely because they’re imported and we have to pay in USD – for example, plastic granules that are imported from China. We also use recycled plastic. I pay 15 afghanis per kg for the plastic and, after processing it, I can sell it for 55-60 afghanis per kg. Recently, I received an order to produce 80 tonnes of raw material to make plastic slippers and another order for 120 tonnes of material to make plastic shoes. I took out a loan from my brother and a relative to buy recycled plastic. It was crucially important to keep my factory going. If I didn’t buy it, I could have just closed my factor. They also have plastic factories, so I don’t need to pay them back in cash; I can give them the raw plastic. 

My son, who also works in the factory, and I both have bank accounts that we used to pay our dealers, but we’ve used the hawala system in the last five months. The last time I went to the hawaladar was last week to send money to someone in Mazar-e Sharif. We no longer use the banking system because it’s not easy to send or collect money from the banks now. 

The properties I have are a house and the factory, and that share in a sports shop which makes me no money. I’ve not been forced to sell anything, but I did have to give my house in geraw last year to buy out my partner. The problem is that I gave my house in exchange for dollars when the rate was around 74 afghanis. Today the rate has reached 102 afghanis per USD [and rising]. I had planned to return the geraw money at the end of this year, but I can’t, because I don’t have enough cash, I’ll need to extend the period of the contract.

We try not to spend a lot of money on daily life because of the economic situation. It means we don’t eat fresh meat or expensive fruit. I mostly ate vegetables last week. My children only eat beans, rice and chips [potatoes]. Last year, we used to have a bukhari [heater] in each room. This year, we only have one [in the whole house] because firewood is too expensive. I used to pay 65 afghanis for 7kg of firewood. This year it costs 95 afghanis. I used to spend 50 afghanis for a kg of gas; nowadays, I pay 85-90 afghanis. It’s the same for fuel. It really affects my factory and my social life. 

I spent about 2,000 afghanis (now 18 USD) on healthcare last month. Children catch the flu in this season in Kabul a lot because of the bad weather. I also paid some money for winter clothes. In general, I spend around 1000 afghanis per month on phone credit cards. The water or electricity bills are the costliest for us. Electricity is expensive in commercial areas; I pay around 15,000 afghanis (136 USD) per month. I don’t have to pay for water, because I have a well inside my factory. I also pay quite a lot of rent, 300 USD per month. This is the highest monthly expense I have, particularly since the exchange rate has become so high. 

The only help I received was the loan I got from my brother and a relative. It really helped me because my own money is already in the business. I also help others. I buy 10-15 pieces of bread every week and distribute them among poor people. That’s all I can do. I think my economic situation is better than many people because I have a source of income and can provide work for many others. 20 people work in my factory now. Their economic situation is much worse than mine. In the future, I hope to expand my business and to return the money that I have taken in geraw.

Women walk past a footwear stall at a market in Mazar-e Sharif on 30 October 2021. Photo: Wakil Kohsar/AFP
 

II. NGO employee in Qalat, Zabul: “We’ve been damaged twice: once by the US who froze our money and then by the Taleban, who hijacked it”

There are nine people in my family: my wife and I, my five daughters, and my son and his wife. Two of my daughters go to government schools and two to private schools. The economic situation in our household used to be very good. My son and I were both employed by NGOs, but he lost his job around two months ago. Our economic situation is not good now, because the prices are so high. I don’t receive any money from abroad, but I wish I did. 

I own my home in the city and have some land, but it’s dry farming land. Three years ago, I had some income from it, but nothing worth mentioning. Now the land is not cultivated because of the drought. I don’t want to sell it, but nobody would buy it because there is no money left with the people even if I did want to sell it. And if someone would buy it, he would give me a worthless rate.

Two people in my family, my son and I, have bank accounts. The money in these accounts is vital for our family because we spend it on our daily expenses. I didn’t go to the bank last week, but I went last month. In Qalat, not many people have money in their accounts, most don’t even have bank accounts, so if someone has money in the bank, they can withdraw it easily. The only problem is that we cannot withdraw more than 20,000 afghanis or 200 USD per week. I have an afghani account and, unfortunately, the currency is losing its value every day. This has harmed me a lot; the money in my account has already lost 30 per cent of its value. So we’ve been damaged twice: once by the US, who froze our money and then by the Taleban, who hijacked it because they don’t allow people to withdraw their own money. 

I lent money to some friends – a total of two thousand dollars – but I can’t ask for it now. Unfortunately, they all left because of the takeover and took my money with them. I don’t blame them because they couldn’t repay me in these harsh circumstances. And it wasn’t proper for me to ask. I believe they’ll pay me back once they reach their destinations.

The price of everything has increased a lot. The increases that have affected my life are mostly flour, cooking oil, gas, and other basic necessities. Every kind of food item is more expensive now. The afghani is devaluing and prices are rising because imports are paid in dollars. There are things I can no longer do because of my economic situation. For example, every winter I made landi (slaughtering a sheep, drying its meat and eating it in winter – a delicacy), but I can’t have landi this winter because of my economic situation. Also, my two daughters are about to graduate from 12th grade. I wanted them to go to a private university in Kandahar to study at the medical faculty, but I won’t be able to afford the fees.

We’re not buying meat or other costly food items anymore. We don’t serve nuts and dried fruit to our guests when they come. My wife and I have decided not always to eat dinner. We pretend to our children that we’re not feeling well, or we say we cannot sleep if we eat at night or that we’re on a diet.

I don’t own anything expensive. I sold my car last month, because I needed money for my parents’ treatment, as they were both sick. I spent 24,000 afghanis, which is around 250 dollars, on their treatment. My parents live in Ghazni with my brothers, but because they don’t have money, my parents came here so I could take them to the hospital.  If anyone in my brothers’ families falls sick, they send them to my house to take care of and arrange their treatment, or I have to send them money. I’m thankful to God that I could manage to help them with their treatment so far. 

Nobody has so far asked me for taxes, but I [indirectly] pay taxes to the government, from my salary through my office.

Last month, when I received my salary, I paid back an old loan. I’ve been indebted to a mechanic who fixed my car last year. He asked for the money because his wife was sick and needed urgent treatment. I also used some of my wages to buy wood heaters, firewood and coats and shoes for my children. It was an expensive month, paying for my parents’ treatment and paying off a loan. I also paid the [private] school fees for my children. 

The thing I really need but I don’t have money for is a car. I had one, but I had to sell it. 

I haven’t taken out any other loans yet, but I hope to borrow money from my relatives and friends who are living in Dubai. My contract with the NGO will end at the end of January and I don’t see any indications that my office will keep me longer than that. If my office extends my contract, I will use the money to open a shop or start some kind of business and then my son can run it. If my office doesn’t extend my contract, I want to leave my family with my son and try to go to Dubai to work and support my family from there.

Apart from my parents and brothers, I did not help anyone. I cannot help people because of my economic situation. I helped just two families by buying some cooking oil for them. I wish I could help more people. 

The biggest change in my life is that I have to be careful with every single [government] employee now, for instance, the police. In the past, everybody in government knew me and respected me because I’d been working in different NGOs in this province for more than a decade. Sometimes the governor or the heads of departments would even ask me to provide them with guidance on NGO-related activities. Now nobody cares about me. The people who worked in NGOs or with the previous government are no longer valued or respected in the city. They [the members of the Islamic Emirate] and those who were pro-Taleban feel they have a kind of supremacy now.

My situation is better than all the people who live in my street or around our home. 99% of them were employees of the former government, and all of them lost their jobs. They’re very poor now. Not only them, everyone who lives in this city is in a bad economic situation. Nobody knows what will happen.

A boy sells vegetables on a street in Kabul on 30 September 2021. Photo by BULENT KILIC/AFP

III. Landlord in Kabul city: “I don’t buy fruit or meat a lot. I want to save money, but I’m also ashamed in front of other people.”

I live with my wife, three daughters and two sons; we’re a household of seven. My daughter and son just graduated and passed the Kankor exam. Then the takeover took place. So now, while they’re waiting to enter university, they’re going to different courses, like computer and English language courses. 

The economic situation of our family used to be very good. I have seven houses, one where I live and six that I rent out. I used to get 180-200 USD for each house, so a total of 1100-1200 USD per month for all six. They were always rented out, but now half of them are empty and I receive only 260 USD for the remaining three houses. If the other houses were also rented out, I could receive around 520 USD. This is one impact on my economic situation.

The second impact is that I used to have a shared business with a high profile person. When the takeover happened, he left the country. Our money is still in the bank. I went to the bank several times, but I’ve rarely been able to withdraw any money because of the crowds.

The third impact is that my houses lost half their value. If one of these houses cost 40,000 USD in the past, I wouldn’t even be able to sell it for 20,000 USD now.

The fourth impact is that I gave around 300,000 afghanis in loans to people, which was equal to around 4,000 USD before the collapse. Now the value is less than 3,000 USD. And I don’t know when I’ll get the money back, so it might lose its value even more.

Apart from the rental income from my houses, I still have a job from which I receive a salary. I don’t get money from abroad and I have not taken out any loans, so far.

Recently the [Islamic Emirate] government asked me to pay the safai tax [a municipal tax used for cleaning] on my houses, a total of 20,000-30,000 afghanis (180-270 USD) for the whole building, I told them I didn’t have the money. I said: “First you should pay and then I can pay you.” The people who rent my houses are, or were, with the government. Since they haven’t received their salaries, I haven’t received rent from some of them either, for months. Now I’ve received a written warning that I’ll face legal action if I don’t pay the tax on time. 

Frankly speaking, the increased prices of food items didn’t influence my life that much. The only thing that has really affected me personally is the increase in fuel prices because I used to drive my car a lot. We also use a generator for the lights and sometimes the heating in our house. We’re trying to save money in many ways because we haven’t managed to find any new sources of income and even lost the ones we had. So now I don’t use my car a lot and whenever possible I travel in a shared taxi. I don’t travel to the provinces anymore and I stopped inviting friends for parties. I used to get regular medical check-ups for myself and my family, but we haven’t gone in the last four months because I’m trying to save money. I also don’t help my relatives financially anymore because I can’t afford it. Until around two months ago, I used to help my brothers and sisters and their families and other close relatives. I’d been doing that for the last ten years. It wasn’t a regular thing, just depending on their needs. But, now I can’t, because I don’t have money in hand. 

In the last month, I received my monthly salary from my office. That was all. And I received some money from the rent of my houses that I spent on daily expenses. I also took my mother to the hospital. She was seriously ill and needed good treatment. My mother lives with my other brother, but he doesn’t have money to pay for her treatment. I also spent around 500-700 US dollars on repairs of one of my houses. It still needs more work, but I can’t afford to do that now. I knew it was not a good time to spend money, but I didn’t have a choice. Renters will not live in a messy house. I also paid my electricity bill, which I pay every month. We bought some meat and vegetables too. 

I can still afford all kinds of good food, but I don’t buy fruit or meat a lot, not like before. One reason is that I want to save money. The other reason is that I am ashamed in front of other people. I can’t support them, but if I buy fruit and meat, they will see me and wish they also had money to buy these things.

I go to the bank every day because I need to take my money out. During the last four months, it was possible to withdraw money according to the limit set by the banks, even though it was very difficult. Now it has become almost impossible. I went to Maiwand Bank yesterday to withdraw 20,000 afghanis (now worth 180 USD), but they would only give me 4,000 afghanis (36 USD).

Since the takeover, I didn’t make any plans. I lost confidence in the government. If I get a chance, I’ll leave my property, take my family, and leave the country. The only thing I can say is that I’m very disappointed. I don’t think good days will come. I think a wave of famine and starvation is on its way.

IV. Former government employee from Yahyakhel, Paktika: “If the situation continues like this, I’ll have to go to one of the Gulf countries”

I live with my mother, father, two brothers and five sisters. My older brother is married and has three sons. My other brother is younger than me. We’re both single. We are fourteen people in one house. My younger brother goes to a public school and a private course. He pays 400 Pakistani rupees (2.25 USD) per month for his course. My small sisters go to the mosque to study. It’s free because we give the mullah wheat or other agricultural produce every year. The children don’t work outside, as they are small. My brother is also young; he only studies. Sometimes he helps at home, for example, by taking care of our sheep, goats and cow.

Before the Taleban came, our economic situation was better. I had a government job and my older brother had a small business that was doing well. We could afford our family expenses and had a good and quiet life. I had my own income and didn’t need anyone’s help. I could even save some money. Every young man wishes to have a higher education, a good job, and get married, but now I’ve spent it all. 

My brother’s business isn’t doing well either. He was buying and selling sheep. During the Republic, his business was good and he used to sell a lot of sheep, but then the Taleban came to our area and the fighting started and there was the drought. We couldn’t take care of our land properly and our harvest was spoiled. So my brother sold most of his livestock at low prices so that they wouldn’t die of lack of water and fodder. After the Taleban captured the whole country, my brother bought some livestock again with the money he had, but business isn’t as good as it used to be. People have no money for bread, so how can they buy sheep?

Now we live a hard life. I try hard to find a job, but I can’t. I don’t know what to do. I feel very stressed and disappointed. I can’t just sit and do nothing and let the burden be on my brother’s shoulders. 

We own our house and some land, but we don’t have enough water to cultivate all of it. The water canals are dry and we can only grow wheat and corn. We also have a lot of rain-fed land, but there has been no rain because of the drought, so we had no income from that. The land doesn’t belong only to us, but also to my uncles and some other relatives. When there was a lot of rain, the villagers cultivated the land together, but there has been no cultivation due to several years of drought.

The most valuable thing we own now is our livestock. I also have a motorcycle. We haven’t sold anything yet, but we might have to sell a calf to repay the shopkeeper. When we didn’t have cash at home, we bought food on credit from him, for a value of about 40,000 Pakistani rupees (225 USD). A calf used to sell for 50,000 to 150,000 rupees (280-840 USD) a year ago, but now it won’t be more than 40,000 rupees. 

No one has asked me for taxes yet, but the Taleban have collected ushr from our land [agricultural tax on the harvest]. They have been doing this for several years now. And when I had a job, the previous government took taxes from me. The Taleban also collect taxes from shopkeepers and traders. Recently, all shopkeepers in the district were asked to clear their work permits and tax accounts. Anyone who doesn’t do it will be fined and their shop will be closed for a few days.

The increase in the price of all basic materials has affected our life, especially fuel prices, now that it’s winter and the weather is cold. Firewood costs 250 rupees (1.40 USD) per 7 kg. One litre of petrol costs 160 rupees (0.90 USD). One litre of gas costs 200 rupees (1.10 USD). The price of 49 kg Kazakh flour is 5000 rupees (28 USD), 24 kg of Pakistani rice is 3000 rupees (17 USD), 49 kg sugar is 4500 (25 USD), 16 litre of oil is 6000 rupees (34 USD) and one kilogram of green tea is 500 rupees (2.80 USD).

Before the Taleban, the price of 49 kilograms of Kazakh flour, for instance, was between 3,500 and 4,000 rupees (20-22.50 USD). Even though last year there was quarantine due to Covid-19, the prices were not as high as they are now. And there was work. Even if the offices were closed, the employees were paid.

Since last month, I’m buying some goods from farmers and selling them in the market. For example, last week I bought corn and sold it for 4,000 rupees (22.50 USD). My brother works in the same way. Last month, I spent around 20,000 rupees (112 USD) on firewood and last week, I spent money on rice and winter clothes for my sisters, around 6000 rupees (34 USD). I also bought notebooks for my sisters. Three months ago, I had some large expenses, because my mother was ill. I took her to Pakistan for treatment. It cost around 100,000 rupees (560 USD). These were expenses we couldn’t afford. 

Before the Taleban took over the country, I wanted to get married. I had saved some money from my salary, but it was spent on my mother’s treatment and other costs. Now I can’t get married, because I have no job and no other way to earn money. Every young man wants to get married, but unfortunately, there are a lot of bad traditions, like the high bride prices and expensive weddings that can costs more than one million rupees (5600 USD). At the moment, I have no choice but to wait and see what happens. Maybe I can start a livestock business with my brother or some other private business. If I can, I will move the family to another city, to Ghazni or Kabul, and start working there. If all this doesn’t happen, I’ll have to go to one of the Gulf countries to work and build my future.

We haven’t replaced or repaired anything. Our house needs repairing, as does our hand pump. The well is dry and we need to dig another well, but it costs 100,000 rupees (560 USD). I spend about 200 afghanis a month on phone credit cards. I used to spend much more because I used the internet, which cost 2,000 afghanis a month, but now I can’t afford it. We don’t pay for electricity or water, because we have solar power and a hand pump, but because our pump doesn’t work anymore, we get water from our neighbour.

I used to eat meat once a week. But now, we have reduced it to once a month or when guests come. In general, we eat less and try to avoid wastage. We have vegetables from our own land, but not now because it’s winter. Sometimes we buy some from the market. We also saved some onions, potatoes, and such. This is what we are using. The best food we can afford at the moment is shurba (bread soaked in soup).

I haven’t been to the bank for the last four months because no one has sent me money and I don’t have any money in my account.

I recently helped my neighbour. Of course, I didn’t give him cash, but I gave him some firewood because it’s cold. He had nothing in the house. We couldn’t do anything else, but I could at least give him some firewood. Some of my friends also helped by lending me some money when I needed it. After that, I repaid the loan. Help is very important and helping needy families is more valuable than helping others. God will reward it. 

Money is important for everything. It makes the economy solid. When you have money, others count on you because they know they can get a loan from you if they need it. When you have money, you have credit with others because they know that whatever they do for you, they will get paid for it. And if you have a lot of money, you can buy gifts for your loved ones and make them happy or help people in need.

My economic situation is average compared to the other people who live close to our family. In our area, many people are wealthy, but some have a hard time finding their daily bread or don’t have shelter. They have no land and live in other people’s houses.

There are many things I can’t do now because of the economic situation because any kind of economic activity requires money. We can’t even think about the future because we’re afraid there might be fighting again. If we borrow money and invest it or sell our land to begin a business, we may lose it. So if the situation continues like this, I’ll have to go to one of the Gulf countries. There is nothing left to do here. I spent all my savings very quickly and have no income, only expenses.

V. Former government employee in Faizabad, Badakhshan: “I’m nine months pregnant. The biggest change in my life is that when I search the house, I cannot find anything to eat.”

I live with my husband and his three brothers, two sisters and father. The eldest sister and two brothers are also married and one of the brothers has a one-year-old son. We’re eleven people in total, living together in a house with four rooms. 

We used to have five incomes in the family. My husband and I were both working, as were his brothers. I worked in a government department and my salary was 8,000 afghanis per month (104 USD at the time). My husband’s elder brother was working with an international organisation; his salary was 24,000 afghanis (310 USD at the time). His other brother was a university teacher in a government university; his salary was 20,000 afghanis (260 USD at the time). My husband’s youngest brother was a schoolteacher. The others weren’t working. My brother’s youngest sister and his brothers’ wives were university students and his youngest brother was in tenth grade. My father-in-law used to work as a school principal; he received a pension in the past, but only twice. Recently, he has not received any pension. 

After the takeover, my husband and I lost our jobs, so my husband’s older brother, who worked for an international organisation, paid for our household needs and food. The other two brothers were also still working, but they weren’t being paid. It was a very tough time for all of us. I got married 13 months ago and I’m nine months pregnant. The biggest change in my life is that when I search the house, I cannot find anything to eat. 

Now, it’s better. My husband got a new job a month ago, although he has not received his first salary yet. Three people have a salary in my family now. My husband works in the same international organisation as his elder brother. His brother got a promotion and his other brother, who was a schoolteacher [at a government school], now teaches in a private school. I still haven’t been asked to go back to work, but my male colleagues go. I contacted them two days ago. They told me nothing is clear about what will happen with the women employees. 

My husband borrowed 8,000 AFG (73 USD) from one of his friends who has a business and a shop. We spent the money to buy clothes for our baby that I’m going to give birth to soon. I also went to the doctor for a check-up, which cost 1000 afghanis (9 USD). We’ll repay the loan when my husband receives his salary. He also borrowed money for our wedding last year. He repaid some of it, but he still needs to pay back 60,000 afghanis (now 545 USD). 

The most expensive thing we own is the house we’re living in. We also have a piece of land in the district. My father-in-law’s relatives work on the land as dehghans (farmers), but they don’t give us any money. Other than that, we own some gold and jewellery, but not much. We all have bank accounts to receive our salaries, but there is no money in them. So far, we’ve not been forced to sell anything. 

My father-in-law retired 20 years ago. He had a small shop just to pass the time, selling foodstuffs like noodles, macaroni, biscuits etc. We used the supplies from his shop during the months that we were in a bad economic situation. Sometimes, he still goes to his shop, but it makes us no money. 

We received some aid almost one month ago: a sack of flour and two bottles of cooking oil. We haven’t received any other donations. The increased price of oil, flour and other foodstuffs has really affected our lives, and also the high price of clothes. Most of the prices have doubled. Last year, my husband’s family bought wood and coal for winter, but they haven’t bought any yet this year. They cut a few trees in the village and brought that home for winter. Nowadays, I use the electric heater whenever I’m feeling cold, but most of the time there’s no electricity. The house has a broken window that we have not been able to replace. 

In the past, we used to spend money on gifts when people got married or when guests came; now we can’t spend money on these things. Our largest expense at the moment is food. We buy less of it. The last time I ate meat was about a month ago. We don’t buy snacks and dried fruit any more. We buy meat and fruit only when guests are coming. Two months ago, my father-in-law had an operation; he had a problem with his prostate. My husband’s brother paid 25,000 afghanis (around 250 USD) for it. After that, many friends and relatives came to visit him at our house; it doubled our food expenses. 

I have not looked for a new source of income because I’m pregnant. I will wait to see if my office calls me back. If not, I’ll try to open a tailoring shop. I am not good at tailoring, but I’ll try. In the past, my husband and I had plans to save money and buy a piece of land to build a house, but we couldn’t do it because of the regime change. 

At the moment, I’m in my father’s home. I’ve been here for ten days because my husband went to the district for work. So I don’t exactly know if anyone earned money in the last week. I know that my husband’s older brother received his salary last month. I worry about my father’s household. Their situation is not that good. My three siblings are university students. My father lost his job and can’t send money to my brother in Turkey anymore. Now my brother has to work alongside his studies to pay for his own expenses. 

People have different economic situations. I know people who are better off than us, but some people can’t find money to eat once a day, or even every other day. Those who have shops and land are in a better situation. Most people who used to have a good income are in a bad situation now, because they spent all their savings in the last few months. The people who can work with international organisations are better off than others. 

I haven’t helped anyone recently. In the past, I used to help our relatives who were in a bad economic situation. It was also part of my work to help people by giving aid, specifically to women. We gave them vegetables, cooking pans, and other kitchen accessories. Now I’m poor and I can’t help anyone. In the future, I hope to have a job and to have money to do my master’s degree in one of the universities in Kabul. I also hope to have money to build our own house. 

V. Former journalist in Tanai district, Khost: “It’s shameful to ask my brother or others for money; you become disgraced.”

I live with my mother and two brothers, and our families. I am married with three children. My older brother has five children and my young brother is also married but has no children. We have three sisters, two of whom are married [and live elsewhere]. We all live as one family, with sixteen people. My young brother studies at a government university and my brother’s children go to government schools. My other brother studies at a private course, he spends 1500 afghanis per month (around 13.50 USD) on the tuition. 

There have been no changes in our family this year, but I lost my father last year. He died of Covid. Then, my brother had a daughter. The biggest change in my personal life is that I lost my job when the Taleban came. This was my only source of income, but I lost it. 

In normal times, two of us worked in our family. I worked here and my older brother worked in the UAE. We had a good economic situation and could even save some money, but since the Taleban took over, I haven’t made even one afghani. And no matter how hard I try, I won’t be able to find a job. I have a kind of psychological problem. Although we don’t have a lot of economic hardship, because my brother still supports us, when someone is young and suddenly becomes unemployed, it makes you nervous. It’s shameful to ask my brother or others for money when my son or wife is sick or when we need clothes. You become disgraced. A person must work and earn so that he doesn’t need to ask anyone else for money.

My brother’s work in the UAE is also not as good as it used to be; his income is lower now. And supporting a big family of sixteen isn’t easy, when food, fuel and everything have become two or three times more expensive. In the beginning, when the Taleban came, we faced a lot of problems. The hawala system was shut down and no one could send money but gradually our situation got a bit better. Now we can get the money whenever he sends it. My brother has a private business in the UAE and he sends us what we need, usually between 20,000 and 50,000 afghanis per month (around 180-450 USD). It’s very important for us. If he weren’t abroad and didn’t send us money, we wouldn’t be able to support our big family. 

In the beginning, when we couldn’t receive the money, I borrowed 50,000 afghanis (450 USD) from a friend of mine. Then, when my brother sent us money, I paid it back. In this situation, everyone seriously needs money.

I haven’t been to the bank recently. I get the money my brother sends from a hawaladar. I have a bank account, but I haven’t used it since I lost my job. I just withdrew my salary whenever it came and never managed to save any money. Having a bank account is important for everyday deals and for business, to send and receive money and so you don’t need to carry cash when you travel. But now, no one trusts the banks in Afghanistan. It’s better not to have a bank account now because banks don’t give people their own money and if they do, they give only very little. 

We own a house and some land. We have some income from our land, but it isn’t enough for our family. One third is given to the dehghan who works on the land, one third is for us and one third is spent on buying water and other things for the land. I haven’t been asked to pay taxes, but the Taleban collect ushr from the land. 

I used to have a motorcycle and used it to go to work, but I sold it a few days ago because I had to take my daughter to a doctor. I couldn’t ask my brother to pay for it, so I sold my motorcycle for 10,000 afghanis (90 USD). The price of cars, bicycles, motorcycles has really decreased, because very few people buy [these things] at the moment. We see a lot of people selling their household possessions. Shopkeepers and businessmen are trying to leave and most businessmen have already taken their capital out of the country. Many people from Khost work in the UAE and are involved in the car business, but now there are sellers but no buyers, so most businessmen have left the country.

No one in our family has received any donations from anywhere or anyone and no one has come to our village to do a survey or check if people are in need. The economic situation of the people here is very bad. Some people have nothing to eat, but they have received no help. 

The increase in the price of all basic materials has impacted everyone in the area. All fuel and foodstuffs are so expensive now. Medicine too, no one can afford it now. Even last year, with the Covid-19 restrictions, prices weren’t as high as they are now. And people at least had work. If they didn’t have an official job, they could do daily labour work and have some income. Now everything is so expensive and people have no money. 

Our largest recent expenses were for my brother’s wedding. The bride price is very high in Khost. We spent 800,000 afghanis (around 7300 USD) on the wedding. We had to do it because he’d been engaged for several years. Apart from that, we haven’t had any expenses that we couldn’t afford. We reduced our expenses and brought changes to our lifestyle. We spend less on clothes, foodstuff and travel. We used to have meat once a week in normal times; now, we reduced it to once in two weeks or when we have guests. The best food we have in Khost is called dandakai, which is made with rice and meat, but we can’t have it as often as we used to. 

I used Afghan currency. In Khost province, buying and selling basic materials and small items is in afghani. Larger goods such as cars or land are sold in dollars and Pakistani rupees. Last month, Most of my money went to medical expenses. I spent 10,000 afghanis (90 USD) because my daughter and mother were sick. I feel sad because I’m spending so much. My brother sends me the money when I need it, but it bothers me that I have no income.

We also bought books, notebooks and winter clothes for my brother’s children. We also pay 1500 afghanis for my brother’s course every month. The house we live in needs some repairs. We wanted to save money to repair it and make it bigger, but we couldn’t. We don’t have to pay electricity and water bills, because we have solar power and a deep well.

I haven’t given money to anyone, but I helped in other ways. When someone had a problem, I went with him to help solve it and I succeeded. My friends have helped me by lending me money when I needed it. Help is very important. There are a lot of people who are looking for help. Now the Islamic Emirate is ruling this country and they also need international help. They can’t take care of the people by themselves. Helping other human beings is important and necessary, both spiritually and humanly.

Money is important for everything in life, but after food and shelter, money is important for a sick person’s medical treatment. I have to have money so that, when someone is sick, I can get them to a doctor on time. 

My economic situation is average, compared to the people who live close to us. There are many wealthy people in our area, but there are also people who struggle to find even their daily bread. If the situation gets better, I want to begin a car business. I already had that plan before the Taleban came. Sometimes my brother sent a car from Dubai and I sold it here. I wanted to improve and extend the work, but I had no chance. I’m not optimistic about the future. There’s so much ambiguity. I am afraid I’ll lose my money if I begin a business. So I have to wait for some time. If the situation gets better, I’ll start a car sales business or import goods from Pakistan. If not, I will have to leave the country. I will go to the UAE and support my family from there, so my children can study and have a good future. Now I can’t make any plans to be useful for the future. 

A woman sits with her children in the waiting room of Shams Kakal hospital, Kandahar province. Photo: Ishaq Anis/Rumi Consultancy/World Bank, December 2015.

VII. The only ‘doctor’ in a remote part of Daikundi: “Most of the patients are unable to pay, which makes it really difficult to keep working”

I was originally trained in Iran, where I did a six-month first aid course. Now I have twenty-five years of experience treating diseases in the community and meeting people’s basic needs. I have a room in the village bazaar where I can examine and treat the patients with basic medicines like painkillers, analgesics, disinfectants, sedatives, gastrointestinal medicines. I also sell hygiene products and cosmetics. I have a nurse working here who treats women and I pay her 10,000 afghanis (now 90 USD) per month. Of course there are risks for the patients. I don’t have the proper equipment to make the diagnosis, so I think the diagnosis is correct in maybe 40 per cent of the cases and incorrect in 60 per cent of the cases. I have no other choice. The main equipment I have to make a diagnosis is a blood pressure gauge. 

I live in the village with my two wives and 19 sons and daughters. Each wife lives in a separate house with her children. They are traditional mud houses. Unfortunately, I don’t own any agricultural land. 

The story of our misery started with the outbreak of the Coronavirus in 2020. Then its negative effects were overshadowed by the drought, which people say has been the worst in the last fifty years. It destroyed the economy of those who relied on agriculture. The intensified sanctions on Iran made things worse, with the devaluation of the Iranian currency against the afghani, since much of the income of our people comes from migrant labour. When the government fell, all the catastrophes were revealed, one after another.

In normal times, my income was good. We had a lot of patients, but now the number of patients is much lower. Most of them are unable to pay and because we know the villagers and they know us, we have to treat them on credit, which makes it really difficult to keep working. The medicines are becoming more expensive each day. Their prices are related to the dollar, while the exchange rate keeps rising and the patients pay us in afghani. 

Our own economic situation is very bad now too, compared to other years, mainly due to the increased prices. We are under pressure from two sides: on the one hand, the high costs of food, clothing and heating material, on the other hand, the doubling of the prices of drugs and the fact that the patients can no longer pay. It might look like our work is fine and without headache, but the medical situation is really very bad. The medicine markets in Kandahar or Herat city used to have confidence in their customers from remote areas due to the fixed dollar [exchange] rate. They would send us the medicines and we would send them the money with some delay. But now, because of the changing dollar rate, we have to pay on the spot to get the medicines.

I pay taxes to the Islamic Emirate monthly, 1000 afghanis (around 9 USD) each time. 

In 2020 I took out a loan to build a new clinic with five rooms and a yard. It cost me 25 lakh afghanis (around 32,500 USD at the time). It’s not yet finished and I still owe 5 lakh afghanis (now around 4550 USD) for the builders, the materials and the land. If my financial situation were good, I would activate the clinic and bring in a doctor and advanced medical equipment. My daily income would have multiplied.

I don’t have a bank account. I only have the money people pay me each day, which is not a lot. I spend most of it on food for my family. Last week, we mostly ate rice and potatoes. I also bought some vegetables. The best food we can afford now is meat and rice. We have to buy it, although we buy very little. Many things are not available in the market now, like fruit. No one brings it [to these remote places] since there are no buyers. 

As I said, much of my daily work is on credit. This is a bad thing. As a doctor, I can’t reject a patient because he has no money, so I have no choice but to treat them, but it puts a lot of pressure on my life. It also makes me feel terrible to see people in such a state of turmoil. In all my 25 years of working, I’ve not yet seen such suffering and poverty.

We’ve minimised our costs, but we still haven’t adapted to the new situation. My income doesn’t only depend on my own work but also on people’s living conditions, security situation, and economic stability. It’s all related. I planned to open a new clinic with better equipment and doctors and also to educate my children. This is still my plan. 

It was good to talk about this. I feel a little relieved now. There are a lot of pressures that sometimes come over me during my work because the living conditions of the people really make me feel bad. I need to tell someone about it sometimes, or I feel I might explode. 

Tags:

Taleban poverty Economy

Authors:

Martine van Bijlert

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