Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Economy, Development, Environment

Living in a Collapsed Economy (3): Surviving poverty, food insecurity and the harsh winter

Martine van Bijlert AAN Team 41 min

In this third instalment of ‘Living in a Collapsed Economy,’ we returned to the people we interviewed at the beginning of winter to find out how they had managed since we last spoke to them, especially during the harsh winter months. For many of them, not much had changed, although their situation had slowly worsened as they continued to need to spend money they did not have. Some had been hit hard, while others found their situation somewhat improved after they found a job or were paid their salaries. Several people had family members who had died. Yet, despite the dispiriting hardship, most interviewees showed a remarkable determination to keep going and take care of their families and, often, wider communities. Many had received some form of food aid, which was much appreciated and provided a brief, but much needed relief. With its more than thirty interviews, quoted below, this report provides a detailed and layered picture of the many ways Afghanistan’s economic collapse is affecting families and businesses. It once again underscores that Afghanistan needs more than humanitarian aid to restart its economy. 

Bread sellers in a market at the Darwaza-e Kandahar area in Herat on 3 February 2022. Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP.

At the end of 2021, between mid-November and mid-December, the AAN team interviewed close to forty people across Afghanistan. They asked them in-depth questions about their household’s economy: How many people in the household had an income? How much money was coming in and what were they spending it on? Had they had to borrow money or sell things they owned? Were there things they could no longer afford? What were they eating? Had they received any aid and had they been able to help anyone themselves? The conversations were frank and often poignant and showed how the economic collapse has affected practically everyone, whether they had previously been wealthy, middle class or poor and already living precarious lives. 

Eleven of these interviews already featured at considerable length in two earlier reports that came out last year. The first report, with five in-depth interviews, starkly illustrated how Afghanistan had turned into a virtually cashless economy overnight. The second report featured six in-depth interviews with people who had been relatively fortunate, had been wealthy to start with, or who used to have a diverse set of income streams, as well as those who still had a stable income. Most of the six were in a better state than the people around them, but they were still struggling. They had trouble accessing their capital or making good use of their investments and they often had to spend a lot of money helping out their extended family. 

In the last month, the AAN team circled back to our interviewees to see how they had fared since we last spoke to them. It was clear from the start that winter was going to be difficult, but we wanted to know what that looked like and what factors were most important, not only for people’s short-term physical survival but also for their chances of economic recovery and ability to live the lives they hoped for. 

Many interviewees had found their situation had slowly and incrementally become worse. For some, their situation had improved. Mostly this happened if they had received salaries again. Others had seen their situation deteriorate significantly after losing a job and/or having to pay for something costly.

One notable thing in the interviews was the determination, initiative and ingenuity of so many interviewees. Even though most expressed hopelessness and great anxiety when we talked to them last year, and still did when we talked to them again, many had also tried out new ventures to provide for their families. Several had succeeded in their plans, even though they often received very little for a lot of effort. This trying is, of course, in many cases largely out of desperation and a lack of alternatives, but it is important to note. The current international focus on food aid for Afghanistan threatens to treat the Afghan population as a faceless and initiative-less mass waiting to be helped, but in reality, most households are doing everything they can to take care of each other. The problem is that the options are so very limited. 

Although the food aid was greatly appreciated – around two-thirds of the interviewees had received at least one round of aid, and many had received two or three – the greater improvement in people’s lives, both practically and psychologically, came from access to income. And it is truly heart-breaking that the situation across Afghanistan is so dire that even relatively small, low-paying jobs can make a big difference for very large households. 

The interviews also show how an increase in economic activity in one sector, however small, has an immediate knock-on effect on the lives of others, although for now, the changes are still minimal. For instance, a taxi driver on the Sar-e Pul to Mazar-e Sharif highway saw his business restart because more people now have jobs they need to go to or – less fortunately – patients they need to take to hospital because of winter illnesses. One man had been given his job back at a car wash, while another had been hired as a guard for food aid distributions. For each of their families, the situation is now a little less dire.

Others have been less fortunate. The former Gulf worker from Paktia, for instance, borrowed money to open a restaurant, but he has no customers since shopkeepers now bring their own food to work and very few people come to the district bazaar. And while the shopkeepers in the sample still sold some wares, much of it was on credit or for prices that were too low to allow them to restock properly. For many of our interviewees, again, their limited means had been severely taxed by illnesses or even deaths in the family. 

Almost all interviewees expressed gratitude and appreciation for the aid they had received, it is arriving and is having an impact on people’s lives. For those who were worst off, the food provided short-term relief from the worst forms of actual hunger. For those who had some money, it freed up cash to use for something else. For those who did not have money, it provided a brief respite from the constant and desperate search for cash or credit. But there was also a lot of uneasiness. There were misgivings over the methods of beneficiary selection and the lack of close monitoring, which will be discussed in a future report. There was unease also over the short-termism of the aid and the increased dependence that it implies. 

The current crisis in Afghanistan is not a matter of assisting vulnerable groups so they can be tided over until things get better, but of the economic system collapsing. It is dispiriting to see the slow and continuous slide into greater debt afflicting so many of the individual households and the ways in which many of the businessmen are forced either to spend, sell or simply lose what was – and still should be – productive capital. The longer this economic crisis lasts, the fewer resources Afghanistan’s businesses and households will have to pick themselves up again, with the risk that some of the damage will be irreversible. Even Afghans’ famed resilience has its limits, given the cascade of crises they face. 

It has been said before, but it bears repeating: This is not an economic crisis that has mainly hit the poor and the vulnerable and 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. 

Below, we provide an overview of what the interviewees said when asked whether their situation had improved or deteriorated, supplemented with relevant details from the rest of the interview. The quotes have been edited for clarity and brevity.[1]In the first round, thirty-seven interviews were done between 19 November and 16 December 2021. In the second round, between 24 January and 19 February, follow-up interviews were done with … Continue reading

1. NGO cook in Kabul city (woman): 

When we last spoke to the NGO cook in Kabul city (quoted in our first report), she was unsure whether she still had a job. Her previously middle-class family had gone from four incomes to just one – brought in by her brother, a now struggling tailor in a suddenly poor city – for a household of fourteen. Though their situation had improved somewhat, it was still very precarious:

There’s been some change in our economic situation. On the one hand, I’m working as a cook again, but my contract ends in two months and I don’t know if they’ll extend it. On the other hand, my salary also decreased because the NGO doesn’t have enough funds. My sister works as a cleaner with the same NGO. Her salary decreased too and she can’t spend it on the family because she borrowed money from the NGO two years ago and still has to repay them. My youngest sister, who used to work for the government, still can’t work, but she did get her salary – once for the months of Asad and Sunbula [23 July to 22 September] and recently for Mezan and Aqrab [23 September to 21 November], but the situation is still bad. Even though we’re working, we only have a little income and life is getting more expensive all the time. We’ve been spending a lot of money buying firewood, coal and gas. But at least we can pay our electricity bill on time now, although it’s difficult. We couldn’t even do that before. 

If the salaries are paid, the three sisters now earn around 25,000 AFS (USD 250)[2]Since the fall of the Republic, the exchange rate has been fluctuating between 92 and 129 afghanis to the dollar. In this report 100 AFS = 1 USD. per month, although only 15,000 AFS (USD 150) is available to them because the sister is repaying her loan. The brother’s earnings are irregular, on average around 2,000 AFS (USD 20) per week. When asked about their plans for the future, the interviewee said:

We plan to leave Afghanistan because this country isn’t safe. We want to go somewhere where it’s safe and where the children can study and we can work, and where all of us can have a good future. If we try, I think we can make it, inshallah.

2. Labourer in Lal wa Sar Jangal, Ghor province (man):

When we last spoke to the labourer in Ghor (quoted in our first report), he was in a desperate situation: there was no work for him because it was winter, he had almost no food in the house, no income and nothing to sell (he had sold a blanket to buy a canister of gas, but the money had not been enough). His situation has now improved somewhat, with several people coming together to help him and his household of eight:

I started working at a mosque about three months ago. There’s snow in the area now, so there’s no other work. I bring water, turn on the heater, clean the building and clear away the snow. I’m paid by the families living around the mosque, or they give me potatoes, wheat or barley. This job has changed my life. I also received a donation from people who heard about my situation. I bought oil, flour and tea. I was so delighted to receive it. My sons are also working. They’re weaving rugs [qaleen]. They might finish the first rug tomorrow, it’s four metres long and the company pays 2,000 afghanis (USD 20) per metre. We’ll use the money to buy rice, oil and clothes and keep some in reserve. And my wife spins skeins of yarn, earning 20 to 30 afghanis (USD 0.20 to 0.30) for each one.

The last time we talked, I wasn’t able to afford anything, now I can afford some things because of the help I received and because my sons are working. At the moment, we have enough flour for 20 days and we have four litres of cooking oil and two kilos of tea. I could pay for some of the food, but not all of it. I also needed to borrow money because my son’s wife was sick. She was pregnant and had kidney problems. He took her to the hospital in Bamyan, where he had to buy drugs from the outside pharmacies and they were so expensive. Now she’s fine. She gave birth to her baby four days ago. I borrowed 20,000 afghanis (USD 200) from the shopkeepers. They gave it to me because they’re hopeful my sons will work as dehghans [farmhands] this coming spring. 

So far, I received aid twice. The first time, I received a sack of wheat and some oil; the second time, a sack of flour, oil and a small amount of lentils. All the people in my area received aid. Almost all people are poor here. If someone can pay for winter food, he’s the richest among us. There are so many problems – from the cold weather that lasts seven months here to not having any skills. The price increases have really affected my family. We wonder what we should do, but we don’t have money to go anywhere. If we decide to move and leave the country, where should we go? Some people tried to go to Iran from here, but they couldn’t make it, so they came back from the border. I have nothing else to say, just that the donation we received helped us a lot, for a short time. 

3. Small trader from a rural district in Baghlan (man): 

The small trader from Baghlan supports a household of ten, as well as two adult daughters who are studying and working in Kabul and Daikundi. He had never been wealthy, but he prided himself that he had always at least been able to pay for his children’s education. When we spoke to him last, business was slow and he had just spent a lot of money on the treatment, and then the funeral, of his first wife and on restocking his house that had been burnt in the fighting. At that time, he could still buy extras, like stationery and toys for his children (quoted in our first report). Now he told us:

There’s been no change in the makeup of my household, but many people have left around us. We wanted to move too, but couldn’t manage it. We wanted to leave our village and move to the city or Kabul because there are no opportunities for my children to study and learn something here. There are no courses and there’s no work. Security is also not good. Our people stay up at night to guard their homes because theft has increased. 

Our economic situation has got worse. I didn’t have any income and we’re many people in this household. Also, it’s winter and the whole family has been sick – we had to spend a lot of money on medicine. The last time we talked, I was able to buy 10 sers of rice (1 ser = 7 kg) and two sacks of flour at once. Now we can’t afford anything at all. Twelve days ago, I borrowed 4,000 afghanis (USD 40) from one of my friends to buy groceries. He’s rich because he has a lot of land and a chicken farm. I’ll repay him whenever I earn some money from selling and buying. 

4. Factory owner in Kandahar city (man)

When we spoke to the small grain processing factory owner in late November, his business was struggling (quoted in our first report). Before the Taleban takeover, his business had been harmed by fighting and the transport problems and border closures that came with it. After the takeover, the industrial park where his factory is situated suffered from electricity cuts and shortages. Orders had been few. When we spoke to him again in early February, things were looking up a bit:

The thing that has had the greatest impact on my life was that I recently got a government contract for around 3,000 sacks of lentils. I haven’t finished processing them yet, but I can finish it easily within a month and then I’ll make a profit of around 300,000 afghanis (USD 3,000). The other thing is that I decided to take on a partner for the factory. I had no choice. I had to sell half my factory to keep it running. I didn’t receive the money yet. He has money in the bank, but can’t get it out. 

I also sold my other house at a low price, for 5,700,000 Pakistani rupees (USD 31,800). Before the takeover, it was worth around 65,000 to 70,000 dollars. I needed the money to run the factory. I still need to pay back the loan I took from an NGO to start the business. The only help I’ve received so far is that the NGO extended the loan for another six months. As soon as I receive the money for the house and from my partner, I’ll be able to pay off the loan. I hope that after that my economic situation will continue to get better. I also invested in a machine to make noodles. I hope to install it soon. 

Recently I slaughtered a cow, which had cost me around 100,000 afghanis (USD 1,000), and distributed the meat to the poor. I also bought clothes and shoes for the labourers in my factory and distributed around 20 sacks (1,000 kg) of lentils to poor people. I lent money to my labourers. It made me so happy to be able to help.

5. Teacher in a girls’ high school in a village near Mehtarlam, Laghman (man)

When we spoke to this teacher in November, he had been working without pay for four months and had just sent his eldest son to Turkey, hoping that he could find work and send money back. He owed almost 50,000 AFS (500 USD) at the grocery store, vegetable shop and the butcher and had borrowed 30,000 AFS to pay for his wife’s appendicitis treatment, as well as USD 1,100 to send his son to Turkey. In late January, he told us:

I was paid for the months Mezan and Aqrab (23 September to 21 November), but I’m still owed four months’ salary. In the past, I could sometimes get short-term work with [name of an NGO] and other organisations, but now there are no job announcements at all. It’s almost three months since my son started working in Turkey. He hasn’t sent us any money yet because he hasn’t fully repaid the loan. We’ve decreased our expenses to the bare minimum, but we still spend 10 to 12,000 afghanis monthly [for an extended household of fifteen] because flour and oil are very expensive. We cannot bear this situation anymore. That’s why we’ve decided to send my brother to Iran or Turkey too. He’s 25 years old and has a degree in maths and physics. He’s so intelligent and is currently teaching at a private school, but the salary is too low and we have no other option but to send him abroad. 

6. Farmer and former Gulf worker from Zurmat district in Paktia (man)

This interviewee had come home from Saudi Arabia for the Eid holidays, got stuck because of Covid-19 travel restrictions and lost his Saudi visa. He then saw his alternative livelihood, farming, go up in smoke, first due to drought and then the market’s collapse. When we last spoke, he talked about plans to borrow money and open a shop or sell wares in Gardez city (quoted in our first report). In early February, he told us:

My situation is better than it was the last time we spoke because my sons and I are working now, although our income is still low. We also received aid from WFP twice. One of my sons sells winter supplies in Gardez, like socks, gloves and masks. My other son, who is a teacher, received two months’ salary, for Sunbula and Mizan (23 August to 22 October),[3]Several people, including this interviewee, have since reported that many teachers have now been paid for the months of Aqrab and Qows (23 October to 21 December 2021). which was 30,000 Pakistani rupees (15,000 AFS or USD 150). He also works as a teacher on a winter course, but the pay is very low. It just covers his own costs. People’s economic situation is really bad and when they don’t have enough to eat, how can they send their children to educational courses? He still has a few students and each student pays my son and his partner 100 to 200 Pakistani rupees (USD 0.55 to 1.10).

I borrowed money from friends in Saudi Arabia, about 50,000 Pakistani rupees (USD 280), and opened a restaurant in the district market with another person. I work there with my two younger sons. But it’s not going well because there are not many customers. People don’t have money to eat at restaurants. We spend all that we earn and my partner wants to quit. Our profit is less than 200 Pakistani rupees (USD 1.15) per day.

I had to borrow 20,000 Pakistani rupees (USDD 112) from a friend because someone in my family needed medical treatment. I haven’t paid it back yet; I hope to repay it by the end of the coming year. Because there was snow this winter, we hope to have a good harvest in the coming year. Now that there’s a little more water, I plan to rent more land and grow vegetables, so I can make a good income, inshallah.

I’ve helped some neighbours and relatives to the extent of my ability. I haven’t given cash to anyone, but if they came and asked for medicine or food, I gave it to them. In the past, I used to help more. For example, I donated vegetables that I’d grown on the land. Now it’s winter and I can only provide food for my own family with difficulty. We have a neighbour who has eight people in his family. He has mental problems, so the wife sometimes comes to our home and asks for help. We help with whatever we can. But life has become very difficult. We’d have much more trouble if we hadn’t received aid and I didn’t have the restaurant to work in. I don’t know how long we can deal with this situation. We have to work hard to find food.

7. Local social worker in a remote district in Daikundi (man)

In normal times, this household of eight could supplement the man’s meagre government salary by selling surplus harvest from their small piece of land and the products from their livestock (sheep’s wool and goat’s hair, male lambs and young goats, qorut, which is a dried yoghurt product, oil, skins). Last year, however, the drought destroyed both the harvest and the animal fodder. When we spoke to this interviewee in late November, he had been paid his government salary once, but was still owed five months. His 15-year old son had left for Iran three months earlier, with other boys from the village, but had not yet been able to send money. 

Our financial situation’s got worse since the last time we talked because of the high cost of food and other goods in the market. I still haven’t been paid [and am owed for months]. I borrow food and fuel from the bazaar. I didn’t sell anything because I had nothing to sell. My animals [livestock] are so thin now, and it’s difficult to find fodder. So nobody is buying. 

I’ve been working in my department for many years and I’ve never seen people in such a bad situation. But it was good we talked. Interviews are a good way to express our heartache; I feel a bit calmer now. Sometimes I get so stressed that I have to go and talk to myself in a secluded corner.

8. Taleb soldier from Baraki Barak in Logar province (man)

This Taleb lives in his parents’ home with his wife, two young children and two younger siblings. He was somewhat vague about his role within the Emirate. He said that he’d “been with the Emirate since long, but never regularly” and that most of the time, he was busy with his own work, which involved tending the family land. His father used to work with an NGO but lost his job a year ago. Then the harvest failed due to the drought. Over the years, he said, he had borrowed money to pay for food and medical treatment, including for his grandmother who died last year. In early December, he said he was not receiving a salary, but did get small amounts of money from friends in the local administration, 500 to 600 AFS (USD 5 to 6), for mobile phone credit and car fuel. He hoped to have a shop and a job in the future. Two months later, in early February, he seemed to have lost what little he had:

All the changes that happened have been for the worse. We’ve received no salaries and expenses are increasing day by day. The pocket money I was receiving was stopped and I lost my work. The Tasfiya [purging or cleaning up] Commission[4]The Taleban’s Commission-e Tasfiya-e Sufuf, or Ranks Clearance Commission, was established in the Ministry of Defence in September 2021 with offices in all provinces (for instance, the Bamyan and … Continue reading came to our district and told me to stay home. They said: “We’ll call you if we need you.” Actually, what happened is that they included me in the army as a simple soldier. I didn’t want that because I have a bachelor’s degree. I asked for a higher position, but they just said: If you want to work as a simple soldier, it’s available [implying no senior position was].

So now I’m staying home. Whatever we had, we’ve spent. My debt with the shopkeepers is increasing day by day. And now they don’t trust me anymore, so we cannot afford the things we could buy before. Over time, I borrowed money from friends who are involved in business. I hope to get a job and pay them back. I’ve applied for so many jobs that were announced on the internet, but until now, I haven’t received any messages or calls for interviews or exams or been shortlisted [for a job]. 

9. Truck driver in Passaband district in Ghor province (man)

This truck driver used to drive three or four truckloads of goods per month on the Herat-Ghor and Kandahar-Daikundi routes. The income was enough to provide for two households (he had two wives living in separate houses) and save some money. But when we spoke to him in early December, his work had come to a standstill since the local shopkeepers were not restocking their shops. He had been forced to move both his wives into the same house. In February, not much had changed.

My economic situation is still bad. Since we last spoke, I had only one truckload. I was looking for cargo for two months. When I found it, I needed money to pay for the fuel and other costs. I asked everyone, but nobody wanted to lend me money. Every day they [the people who hired me] told me to go, and I had to make excuses. I couldn’t tell them I didn’t have the money to pay for the fuel. After three days, just as I was starting to feel hopeless, I found someone who lent me 20,000 afghanis (USD 200). This was about a week ago. I borrowed the money from another truck driver, who is a friend and a colleague. 

10. The only ‘doctor’ in a remote part of Daikundi (man)

When we talked to him earlier (quoted in our second report featuring people who had been relatively well-off), this local health worker was struggling with a dwindling income because most people could no longer pay for their treatment, the prices of medicine had increased because of the rising exchange rate and sellers no longer sent him drugs on credit. He was doing better than the people around him, but felt the strain of seeing so much suffering. In early February, his situation had worsened:

My financial situation has changed a lot since the last time we spoke. At that time, one dollar was 89 afghanis in the exchange offices (sarafi) now it’s more than 100 afghanis. Every time I buy medicine from the city, the prices have gone up and I can’t buy it at the old price. It means I’m losing capital every day and I can’t do anything about it. It’s like having cancer and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Also, the well we had for the garden dried up and I had to dig a new one for 130,000 afghanis (USD 1,300) so the trees wouldn’t die. I borrowed wheat with a value of 20,000 afghanis (USD 200) from a friend to feed my family. I will repay him when next year’s wheat harvest comes in. Nothing else happened, but the high cost of living has put a lot of pressure on us; it’s unbearable. If the situation doesn’t get better in spring, if it gets worse, then we can no longer live here. We’ll have to emigrate.

11. A former mullah/medicine shop owner from Nawzad district in Helmand province (man)

This interviewee used to run a traditional (Yunani) medicine store, and as a mullah he was also provided with food, ushr and zakat by the other villagers. When the big stores and dealers no longer provided him with the medicines on credit, and the villagers couldn’t pay much ushr because of the drought, he closed his shop and left Nawzad. When we spoke to him in early December, he was working as a sign painter in Lashkargah, where he lived in a borrowed one-room home with his family, but struggled to make a living. He told us that the price for a two-sided signboard was 600 AFS (6 USD) per metre, if it was not too complicated, but that many of his customers weren’t able to pay or asked for a lower price (“If it costs 200 afghanis, they ask me to do it for 50”). In late January, when we asked him if there were any changes in his household, he told us: 

Yes, my two-year-old son died. He was sick and I didn’t have money for his treatment. My economic situation has weakened. I couldn’t find any signboards to write, so I moved my family to this district. A tribal elder agreed that I would teach the children in his household English and computers because I know some English and computers and he has a large family. He gave me a home to live in and a three-month contract. If he likes my teaching, he promised to make me the mullah imam of the mosque, as well. That would really help me a lot. 

I borrowed 5,000 Pakistani rupees (USD 28) from one of my neighbours about a month ago. I said I would pay it back after two weeks, but I couldn’t. He came to my house to ask for it. He also didn’t have money, that’s why he was insisting that I pay. I’ve never faced such a situation before. I sold a phone I’d bought for 12,000 Pakistani rupees (USD 65) for 7,000 (USD 37). My wife was sick and I spent the money on her medicine. In fact, she became sick after our child died because we had no money to treat his illness.

12. Psychosocial counsellor working for an NGO in a district in Sar-e Pul (woman)

In this household of seven, the interviewee and her parents used to have a combined monthly income of around 50,000 to 60,000 AFS (USD 500 to 600). After the takeover, this had dwindled to almost nothing, but when we first spoke in early December, she had just found a new job, although she had not yet been paid. It also looked like her father’s work might be picking up, but her mother had not been called back to her government job. They had just borrowed USD 400 from relatives to pay six or seven months of back rent for their house (which was 4,000 AFS or USD 40 per month). In early February, her situation had further improved and the family had managed to save some money for contingencies:

At that time, our situation wasn’t good and we couldn’t even afford to buy food. Our economic situation is better now because I have a job and my father’s work is also better. He has a Corolla car and drives between Sar-e Pul and Mazar. Now he goes to Mazar three times a week, where before it was only once because there were so few passengers. The passengers mostly travel to their jobs or are shopkeepers who bring supplies from Mazar. Also, there is more illness and Sar-e Pul does not have well-equipped hospitals, so people go to Mazar for medical treatment. 

My salary is USD 400 per month and my father can earn up to 4,000 to 5,000 afghanis (USD 40 to 50) a week. We have some savings but not much because we had to spend it on food and winter fuel and my brothers are still small. It’s difficult to save, but necessary. If something happens and we don’t have savings, it will be very difficult. We have about 30,000 afghanis (USD 300) in savings. A recent big expense was that we applied for passports for the family. It cost us 26,000 afghanis (USD 260). We also helped some of our close relatives. It’s cold and people need to buy winter fuel. We sent 10,000 afghanis (USD 100) to my grandmother who lives in Herat.

I plan to save up money because we’ve heard that the fighting will start again in spring and we’re worried about where we could go to be safe. Everyone wants to move to European countries, but we’ll not go to Iran or Pakistan. In that case, we’d prefer to stay in Afghanistan.

13. Journalist from Kunduz city (man)

This journalist used to have some savings (USD 2,500) but spent it all, first on moving his family to a district during the fighting around Kunduz city, then on his own trip to Kabul, where he initially hoped to be safe and, after the takeover, to be evacuated. When he realised it was still possible to work (and after receiving a negative answer on his evacuation request) he returned to Kunduz. In mid-February he told us:

My economic situation remains the same, but I face more financial issues than the last time we spoke. I spent most of my cash savings. At the time, my income had already decreased from USD 800 per month to USD 200, and now it’s even less. I work as a freelance journalist and the work has become really challenging. Local government officials aren’t interested in sharing details and local people aren’t interested in giving comments. The news agencies are also not as interested in reporting about Afghanistan. Now I only make USD 100 or USD 150 USD per month. My son works for [one of the provincial departments]. He’s very busy, but he hasn’t received his salary for the past two months. I spent a lot of money on health issues, particularly during winter. Last month, I visited a doctor three times. I paid 2,000 afghanis (USD 20) for medicines and 400 afghanis (USD 4) for the doctor’s fee each time. Other high costs were firewood and gas and the electricity bill; the last bill was 2,500 afghanis (USD 25). 

If the situation stays like this, I plan to leave the country. In my family, most of us used to work or study. I don’t think it makes much sense for people like us to live in Afghanistan. I don’t want to see my children uneducated, but I can’t afford private education. If I’d known the Taleban would come to power, I would’ve left years ago. 

14. Former government employee in Faizabad, Badakhshan province (woman)

This former government employee’s large extended (in-law) family had gone from five incomes to one after the Taleban takeover. When we spoke to her in early December, there were three salaries in the family again. Even though they hadn’t all been paid yet, they were already doing better than most, but they still had to watch their expenses (quoted in our second report featuring people who had been relatively well-off). When we spoke to her again in February, the family was doing better financially since the government salaries had been paid, but she had lost her newborn son in a harrowing case of medical neglect.[5]Describing her experience at the Faizabad government hospital, the woman told us: One morning, I felt so much pain. I went to the hospital with my mother, but the midwives weren’t helping … Continue reading

My sister in law gave birth to a baby boy three days ago. She and I were both pregnant at the same time, but unfortunately, my baby died because of the hospital’s carelessness. It affected me a lot mentally. I became very anxious and had bad dreams. For almost 25 days, I would get up and cry at night. I hadn’t been able to eat good food in the first two months after the Taleban came because none of us had an income and this was also a problem [for my pregnancy]. 

Our economic situation is a bit better, since the five of us all received two months’ salary – a total of 168,000 afghanis (USD 1,680). My salary was sent to my bank account when I wasn’t well. Now I feel better, but every time I call the bank, they say they have no money. They said it might be available on Saturday. I haven’t gone back to work yet. The head of my office has changed; now it’s someone the Emirate hired. Two weeks ago, I received a call from [my department in] Kabul. They said our office, which specifically works for women, might be involved in distributing aid. They took my WhatsApp number, but they haven’t contacted me yet. 

We didn’t borrow any money recently, but my husband still owes the money he borrowed for our wedding. He will slowly repay it whenever he receives a salary. He didn’t manage to pay anything back since we last spoke. This time we had to spend all my husband’s salary on the hospital and the transportation to get there, especially the drugs we bought for my baby, which were very expensive. We spent almost 20,000 afghanis (USD 200) in those three days. We don’t have any savings. We’re a big family and we have many guests.

Two months ago, when we spoke, I wanted to buy things for my baby, but I couldn’t because I didn’t have the money. I was hoping to buy them whenever we received our salaries. Now we can afford it, but we don’t need it anymore because my baby’s not alive. 

We received aid from WFP three times, with the same card. My husband’s brother, who is a schoolteacher and is in a bad economic situation, received the card. Three people came and saw our house. They make a list, and whoever is on that list can receive aid whenever it’s their mosque’s turn. The first time we received flour and salt, the two other times we received flour, oil and 20 small packets of something that prevents malnutrition in children. We help a little bit whenever someone comes and asks for it, especially beggars, and my husband supports his two unmarried sisters.

Two or three months ago, the situation was much worse in general. All people had lost their optimism and hope for the future because no one was receiving a salary. The aid that was distributed had a positive impact on people’s morale. I can’t imagine what people might have done if the salaries hadn’t been paid and aid hadn’t been distributed. The situation was so bad and was getting worse every day.

15. Factory owner in Kabul city (man)

This owner of a plastic melting factory (who was quoted in our second report) had been relatively well-off when we spoke to him in early December. His business had still been doing well, largely because his factory was part of a production chain that makes inexpensive shoes and these were now much more in demand than they used to be. At the same time, he struggled to find the cash necessary to buy raw materials, had cut down on daily expenses and was unable to release the house he had mortgaged last year to buy out his partner. In February, his situation had drastically deteriorated.

The biggest problem over the last two months has been the electricity supply. For the last one and half months, there’s been no power at all. Almost all factories, including my own, have stopped their production. I recently sold half of my stored raw materials, at half price, just to have some cash for our daily expenses. My factory workers have gone home because I can’t pay their salaries. It’s a disaster. I’ve been paying rent and other costs without any income. If it stays like this, I’ll have to give up the factory. The only thing I can think about at the moment is how to find enough income to survive.

16. Muezzin and religious teacher in Mazar-e Sharif, Balkh province (man)

This muezzin [person who announces the call to prayer at a mosque] in Mazar-e Sharif used to make 8,000 AFS (USD 80) per month from his two jobs. In early December, his income had dwindled to around 2,500 AFS (USD 25) since he had far fewer students and the people in the area could no longer pay him for his mosque duties. He managed to pay the electricity bill (7,000 AFS or USD 70) only after a friend sent him CAD 100 (USD 78) from Canada. His two children could no longer go to courses or the sports club and he and his wife had medical issues they could ill-afford. His son worked in a wholesale drugstore, where he was paid just enough to afford the car fare to work. In February, he told us:

The situation is still as bad as the last time we spoke. I still teach religious lessons in the mosque. I spent a lot of money on my wife’s treatment recently. The doctor prescribed daily physiotherapy for her leg and back pain. It costs 2,750 afghanis (USD 27.50) for ten days. I can’t afford it. Again, I sold a ring to pay for our family’s expenses; I bought potatoes, onions, garlic, lemons, some spinach and also a warm coat. I don’t want to complain. I thank God anyway. I can’t do any other work but teaching since I’m blind, but the income is too low. 

17. Hawaladar in Passaband district in Ghor province (man)

This local hawaladar told us he was a representative of a remittance company that had offices in many centres (including in Kandahar, Herat, Nimruz, Ghazni, Kabul, Balkh, Bamyan, Daikundi and Ghor). His main job, gathering and transferring money from local shopkeepers, had come to a standstill due to a lack of cash in the market. He described his situation as very bad: “I have to reject remittances due to a lack of money in the market and because my hand is empty. It means I’m refusing a piece of bread that is offered, while I’m hungry.” In February, he told us:

My financial situation has become worse since we last spoke. There were a few of us who did the remittance work together. Now two of the partners borrowed money and fled to Iran. The others will very likely stop working too. The partners we gave a loan to probably can’t pay us back and there’s a real possibility that we’ll go broke. I’m very worried about the future of my work. However hard I try, I can’t pull myself from this economic crisis. I’m stuck in this work and I can’t save myself.

18. Student in Farah city (woman)

In this household of fifteen, the total monthly income from three jobs (by two people) used to be 20,500 AFS (USD 205), with some additional money from a pension. After the takeover, all income stopped. The interviewee and her sisters sold the little gold they had – earrings and a bracelet – to pay their university fees (5,000 AFS or USD 50 per semester) in an attempt to stave off depression and anxiety, while their family had not yet been able to buy firewood for winter. They struggled to keep up with the class assignments since they didn’t have money to pay for the internet. A niece in Herat had just been treated for osteoporosis and malnourishment, which had cost 10,000 AFS (USD 100) – money they had borrowed from a shopkeeper. Not much had changed in early February,:

There was no particular change in our economic situation. My sister received two months’ salary, 12,000 afghanis in total (USD 120), so we could buy oil, rice and flour. I also received money [a private donation] which I used to pay for university fees for one semester. Last week we borrowed 2,000 afghanis (USD 20) from my cousin’s husband, who has a shop, to buy flour, and yesterday my mother sold a small gold ring for 2,500 afghanis (USD 25) to buy oil, potatoes and other things. The prices are so high even a sack of peshqil (dried animal dung) that we use as winter fuel has increased from 100 afghanis to 300 afghanis. Nothing else happened that could greatly impact our lives, but my sister got sick; she had kidney stones. She was at the hospital for two days and we spent 2,000 afghanis (USD 20) for her treatment. The doctors told us to take her to Pakistan, but we couldn’t spend more money. She’ll have to drink water to get well by herself. She’s 16 years old. 

I hope to continue my education, but I don’t know how I’ll pay for the next three semesters and the study materials. My classmates don’t have these issues. They can buy the syllabi and new clothes and shoes. 

19. Former NGO employee in Qalat city, Zabul province (man)

When we spoke to this NGO employee in early December (quoted in our second report), he was doing relatively well due to his regular income. This also meant that his extended family counted on him to pay for their medical expenses and other emergencies. When his parents fell ill, he had to sell his car to pay for their treatment. At the time, he was not sure his contract would last. When we spoke to him again in late January, he had indeed lost his job:

My economic situation has changed since we last spoke. I lost my job and this changed my life very much. I was receiving 70,000 afghanis (USD 700) per month. The good news is that my son found a job in another NGO, although he’s receiving less than I did – only 10,000 AFG (USD 100) per month. And he hasn’t been paid yet. I had to spend a lot of money last month because my father passed away. My whole family had to go to Ghazni and there were so many guests in our house. I spent almost 50,000 afghanis (around USD 500), although my other brothers also spent a lot. Now my savings are gone. Losing my job and losing my father affected me a lot, both psychologically and economically.

20. Former NGO gardener/taxi driver in Kabul city (man)

This man lives with his children and grandchildren in a household of ten. His youngest son is deaf and used to go to a specialised school, but they can no longer afford the transportation. The man used to work as a gardener with an NGO, but he lost his job a year ago. He then borrowed around 200,000 AFS (USD 2,000) from a microfinance bank, bought a car and became a taxi driver. After a few months, his car was stolen and his eldest son, who had taken the car out at night, was badly beaten and hospitalised. He then started working as a daily labourer, while his son, who had wanted to go to university, worked in a car wash. When the economy collapsed, their income dwindled to almost zero. When we spoke to him in early December, he had sold their fridge, bread oven, carpet, bicycle, all very cheaply, to buy food and pay for his mother and wife’s medical treatment. He was afraid he would lose his house, which he had mortgaged to the bank. He thought that maybe he could get enough money to open a small shop if he sold his house, but there were no buyers. When we spoke to him again in February, his situation was still dire. Moreover, he was one of very few interviewees who had not received any aid, despite being in a bad economic situation:

We only had plastic to burn to keep a little warm in winter. My grandchildren are sick, they cough a lot, but I can’t afford to take them to a doctor. My wife needs to take medicine all the time, but there’s no money. Each prescription costs 3,000 Afs (USD 30) and I have to find money, even if I have to beg; otherwise, her situation will get worse. I take a pushcart or wheelbarrow to the Mandawi [main market] every day, but there are a lot of men with pushcarts waiting for their turn to transport someone´s goods. If I have a good day, I can make 100 or 200 afghanis. My son has been working at the car wash for the last ten days and makes 200 afghanis per day (USD 2) washing cars and carpets, but he has to spend 50 afghanis (USD 0.50) for transportation. He has four children and can’t afford anything, but at least he can provide them with bread. 

I went to the bank to tell them I didn’t have the money to repay a loan. They said I don’t have to pay the interest, but I still need to pay the original amount. I told them: “I can’t even find bread; how can I pay you?” I sold more things from our home, kitchen appliances and the television. I haven’t paid my water or electricity bill in the last six months. In the end, the electricity company cut us off, but I have to pay the water bill. We can live without electricity, but not without water. Everything has become even more expensive. I buy everything in small amounts – one or half a kilo. I also buy the bread that has been in the bakery all day; it’s cheaper. 

There was poverty in the past too, but after the Taleban takeover, it became worse. If there was 50 per cent poverty in the past, now it’s 100 per cent. I only hope that the NGO I worked for keeps its word and takes us out of the country. I had hope, but I’m disappointed now. We ask the Taleban and the international community to take the people out of this dangerous situation by creating jobs. If there’s work, I can get rid of all my problems and my debt.

Afghan women and children waiting to receive bread and food as alms in Kabul on 19 February 2022.
Photo by Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN/ AFP.

21. Disabled shopkeeper in Kiti district, Daikundi province (man)

This man was injured in 2006 as a bystander in a clash between gunmen and the ANP (Afghan National Police) and lost his arm for lack of proper treatment. He used to receive a disability stipend of 65,000 AFS (USD 650) per year from the martyrs and disabled department and ran a small shop. When we spoke to him in early December, he was paying 550 AFS (USD 5.50) interest per month on a 50,000 AFS (USD 500) loan he had taken out earlier in the year to restock his shop. He had hoped to use his annual stipend, which he hadn’t received, to repay the loan. He also had a larger loan, borrowed from his brother, from an earlier attempt years ago to make a living in Iran. When we spoke to him in December, he told us that his only income had been the money he received from selling six sheep, cheaply. In early February, his situation had worsened: 

No one in our family has a job or income and my wife got sick. I needed to borrow money, but no one would lend me any. Who has extra money? So I sold two goats for 6,000 AFS (USD 60) and spent the money on the travel to Nili [Daikundi’s capital] and my wife’s treatment. Everything’s getting more expensive; we can’t afford it at all. We can eat food like beans and chickpeas only once or twice a week, the other times we have only bread and bitter tea (without sugar). My children’s faces have changed completely. They became so thin. This is the situation of all the families in the village. I can no longer buy many kinds of food, such as first and second-grade rice. We all use third-grade rice now, which is the residue from the large warehouses. It usually smells and tastes bad, and most of the time, my children will not eat it.

I did help someone recently. I gave a five-litre canister of cooking oil to a person whose situation was worse than mine. That was all. I didn’t help anyone else. I just hope to God that my disability benefits aren’t stopped. About a month ago, the department asked all disabled and heirs of martyrs to come to the provincial centre with their documents. They said they would call us whenever the money had arrived. They copied my documents and signed the booklet, but they didn’t do it for everyone. I heard the benefits of those people might be stopped. I hope everyone keeps getting their benefits. But so far, no one has received any.

22. Shopkeeper in Kunduz city, who used to work with the Germans (man)

The two brothers in this family started a shop each a few years ago after selling two cars and a piece of land. They would earn around 15,000 AFS (150 USD) per month (“people were still buying things”). Since Nowruz (21 March 2021), when fighting came close to the city, the business had been going down. Then one of the shops was destroyed when the market burned in the fighting. In December, the remaining sporting goods shop still had some sales but was not making a profit; they had taken the stock on credit which they still need to repay (400,000 AFS or 4000 USD worth of goods) and were selling their wares cheaply. He had needed to borrow 20,000 AFS (200 USD) for his uncle’s funeral, who had died in the Kunduz mosque attack and had recently sold his wife’s gold necklace to buy food. In late January, little had changed:

We still spend the money I earn in my shop, but sales are not that great. It’s worse than when we last spoke. I repaid the loan I took out for my uncle’s funeral, but then I had to borrow money again. The country’s situation hasn’t changed and people expect it will deteriorate. Everyone’s just thinking about getting a passport and leaving. I got a passport for my son and I want to get one for my parents and my brother too, when I have the money. At the moment, my only hope is to leave Afghanistan. Sadly, most of my neighbours have either left or have plans to leave. Most of them go to Pakistan or Iran with their families. It makes me feel hopeless.

23. Former journalist in Tanai district, Khost province (man)

In early December, we spoke to this former reporter whose extended family lived off the money his brother sends them from the UAE (quoted in our second report). It meant that they were better off than most, but the dependence greatly bothered him and the money was still not enough to cover all expenses. In early February, not much had changed:

There have been no major changes, but it’s getting worse every day. All eyes are on our brother. If he doesn’t send money, we’ll be in trouble. And one person can’t support a large family of 20 people. I’ve been unemployed for more than six months and I’ve spent all I’d saved. If you don’t know anybody or don’t share the Taleban’s ideology, you can’t find a job in the government offices. And the NGOs in the province only recruit their relatives. However, there’s been a change in myself. In the beginning, I was afraid, but now that we live with the Taleban in power, I’ve overcome my fear and anxiety. In the beginning, people thought the Taleban didn’t understand anything other than destruction and killing, but it’s not like that. Those who worked with the former government or who were journalists are safe and can move freely.

24. Landlord and businessman in Kabul city (man)

When we spoke to him in December, this landlord (quoted in our second report) was doing better than others since he still had both a regular salary and income from his houses, although it was a lot less than it used to be. But he couldn’t access his business investments since the banks were not releasing the funds, and he was owed money that was losing value. So he too had to cut back on his expenses. In late January, his situation had declined:

I still have my job, but I receive my salary irregularly. My main income from my houses has gone down. Three houses are empty now, one more than when we last spoke, and the rent is very irregular. I rent out four houses for 7,000 afghanis (USD 70) per month each, compared to more than 12,000 afghanis before the collapse. What is impacting my life most is that I can’t get money from the bank. The last time we spoke, I could withdraw around 10,000 afghanis (USD 100) per week; now I can’t even get 4,000 afghanis (USD 40). When I go to the bank, I have to wait in line for more than 4 hours. And if you want dollars, they pay you in such small notes that the moneychangers will only exchange them at very a low price. Recently, I was very close to borrowing money, but thank God I received my salary and some rent. I had savings, but I used all the cash I had. The rest is in the bank.

25. Former senior civil servant from a remote district in Daikundi province (woman)

In this household of six, the two single adult daughters were the main breadwinners. They both moved back to the district when they lost their jobs after the Taleban takeover. In December, the younger brother, who had been a student before the Taleban takeover, had been working in Iran for three months but had not yet been able to pay off the smuggler. The drought meant that there had been no income from the land, but the family had sold two cows to pay for food and firewood. In early February, she told us:

Our financial situation has become worse since the last time we spoke. We still have no income and we had to spend a lot of money to treat my mother’s illness. The price of food and fuel has gone up by fifty per cent because the roads are closed [due to snow] and because of the dollar’s rise against the Afghani. People can barely buy what they need. So far, we didn’t need to borrow money or sell anything because we still have some savings from when my sister and I used to work. But it’s running out. We’re managing at the moment, but our situation is worsening. 

I don’t have any plans for the future. For now, we’re two sisters living with our old parents and I can’t take them anywhere. I just pray that suitable conditions are created for us women, who are the family breadwinners, to work and feed our families. That’s all I wish for. I can’t make any other plans because the situation for us women is not clear.

26. Former police guard from a remote district in Daikundi province (man)

This former police guard lived in Nili, but moved his young family back to the district after the Taleban took over. When we spoke to him in December, he had been without an income since the fall of the Republic on 15 August. He had borrowed money (100,000 AFS or USD 1,000) to buy winter food and clothes, sold a motorcycle and two carpets, and then borrowed money again (50,000 AFS or USD 500) to pay for medical treatment and travel to Kandahar when his daughter became sick. We spoke to him again in early February: 

My financial situation is much worse than before. I borrowed money so I could go to Iran for work. A friend sent 20,000 afghanis (USD 200) to pay the smuggler. I tried three times, but unfortunately, we were arrested inside the country and sent back each time. So I came home to wait until the situation improves before I try again. In Nimruz, when you arrive, you think that the whole of Afghanistan has gathered there to go to Iran. All the hotels and guesthouses are full of travellers. 

27. Former teacher at a girls’ school in a remote district in Nuristan province (woman)

This teacher stopped working after the Taleban takeover because the journey to and from work felt too dangerous. In December, she was still teaching classes in her home, but since most girls couldn’t pay, the fees added up to less than 500 AFS (USD 5) per month. Otherwise, the family depended on loans and the little that their cows and land produced. The family had sold three sheep to buy food and borrowed 50,000 AFS (USD 500) to take her father to doctors in Kabul and Jalalabad, but they didn’t have the money to pay for the operation he needed. Her father had also claimed her mehria (an agreed amount of money a husband has to give his wife whenever she asks) and used it to build a mud house. In late January, little had changed:

Our life is the same as when we talked last time. My students can’t pay me any fees, so I don’t earn anything from my teaching. All my family members, including my husband and father, are jobless and stay home all day without a plan. It’s winter, so they can’t do anything. Maybe in the spring, they’ll be able to work on the piece of land that we have or do some other work. I have no plans and no hope, not under this regime. I just know that the days and nights are passing. In our village, almost everyone lives under the poverty line. And the aid distribution isn’t done honestly. It just plays with the people. Most of the aid is just for showing off. 

28. Former government employee from Yahya Kheil district, Paktika province (man)

When we spoke to him in December, the extended family of this former government employee in Paktika largely lived off the earnings of his brother’s struggling livestock business (quoted in our second report). They had simplified their eating habits. Nevertheless, they were better off than many others since they still had money for winter clothes, notebooks and a course for the young brother. The interviewee had saved money towards his marriage, but ended up spending it all on firewood and his mother’s large medical bill. In February, his brother’s business had collapsed, but his own fortunes had also changed: 

I got a job and this has impacted my life. I was really concerned and disappointed and I had psychological problems, but I’m busy now and have an income. The changes in our economic situation are not that much, but it’s still better than the last time we spoke. I’ve been working for the past two months as a guard for a charity that distributes aid. I’m happy now. My salary is 10,000 afghanis (USD 100) per month, which is equal to 20,000 [Pakistani] rupees. I could pay off some of my loans and help with the family’s expenses. No one else in my family has a salary; they’re just spending. My brother couldn’t invest the money he had because everything was so expensive and no one can do business with so little money. In the end, we spent what we had. He went to Kandahar several times to work, but he couldn’t find any. We also received aid from the United Nations twice. If we hadn’t received aid and if I hadn’t found a job, we might have been in a very bad situation now.

29. School principal from Kiti district, Daikundi province (man)

When we spoke to this school principal in late November 2021, he and his wife, who is a teacher, had just been paid for the month of Asad (23 July to 22 August). By that time, they owed the shopkeeper 30,000 AFS (USD 300) and had been forced to sell a cow cheaply to buy food and winter fuel. In February, not much had changed:

My situation hasn’t changed much, but last month we received two months’ salary for Sunbula (22 August to 22 September) and Mezan (23 September to 22 October). My wife and I received it, so it was good for our winter expenses. We received a total of 40,000 afghanis (USD 400), 24,000 afghanis (USD 240) for me and 16,000 afghanis (USD 160) for my wife. We got the money from the bank. But the difference now is that this government has cut the emtiaz tahsili (education stipend), which was an additional 2,000 afghanis (USD 20) per month for those with a bachelor’s degree. But at least I could repay the shopkeepers.

I want to add that I’m worried about the start of classes in the new year. As far as I know, many students in grades ten, eleven and twelve have gone to Iran and even Turkey. This is a problem in all schools in Daikundi and even in the universities. People feel hopeless about education because of poverty and political insecurity and are pessimistic about the future. This is very worrying. In the new year, Daikundi may have the lowest number of participants in the university entrance exam, while in previous years, Daikundi always had very high statistics. 

30. Shopkeeper in Khedir district, Daikundi province (man)

The shopkeeper in Khedir used to bring goods from Kandahar to the district to sell, but in November 2021, his business had already slowed down greatly. In February 2022, the family’s efforts to improve their situation hadn’t yet paid off: 

About a month ago, two of my brothers went to Iran with a smuggler, looking for work. They arrived, but they haven’t found work yet because it’s winter. They’re waiting for the building season to start, which is usually from Hamal until Qows [21 March to 21 December]. My own economic situation has deteriorated because of the rising prices. I’m only losing money.

31. Hawaladar in a remote district in Daikundi province (man)

When we first spoke to this hawaladar in November 2021, he told us that his money exchange business was doing well, since more remittances were being sent from Iran due to the drought and Covid-19 pandemic. He said he had made around 10,500 AFS in the last month (USD 105). At the same time, he said he’d also suffered from the price increases, had needed to borrow money to pay for his household expenses and had sold a cow, albeit “for an appropriate price.” It seemed like he was keeping up a brave face. In February 2022, he sounded very different: 

Since the last time we spoke, I sold a motorcycle for 15,000 afghanis (USD 150) and a two-year-old cow for 9,000 afghanis (USD 90). I used the money to buy food for the family and fodder for the animals. The thing that had the greatest impact on my life is that the dollar reached 129 afghanis about two weeks ago, just as my two other partners and I bought dollars. Now the dollar went down again, from 129 to 92 afghanis. Many partners lost almost all the money they had. At the moment, everyone’s hands are tied and the company’s work has almost come to a complete stop. Our work is more or less based on past credit/trust (etebar), but until the company’s working conditions become clear, no one is willing to give us money. This is very dangerous for us. Other partners may have invested outside Afghanistan, but people like me, with little money, feel like we’re drowning. If the remittance business closes, I’ll have to go to Iran as a labourer. I can’t make a living here. 

32. Teacher in Khedir district, Daikundi province (man)

When we spoke to this teacher in November 2021, he was worried about the future of schools, what would happen with this year’s final exams and whether he could continue his job under the new government. He had been paid one month’s salary (Asad, 23 July to 22 August) and had to borrow money from his uncle to buy three months’ worth of winter food. In February 2022, he was worried about the future: 

My father, unfortunately, died. He was sick for about two weeks and died before seeing a doctor. I had to spend a lot of money, about 150,000 afghanis (USD 1,500), on the funeral. Both the high prices in the market and my father’s death have greatly affected my life. Our economic situation has also worsened. I received my teacher’s salary only for the months of Sunbula (22 August to 22 September) and Mezan (23 September to 22 October), and they cut the educational stipend which was 2,000 afghanis (USD 20). Now I get paid only 9,000 afghanis (USD 90) a month. I borrowed 60,000 afghanis (USD 600) from my cousin and I sold four sheep for 20,000 afghanis (USD 200) for my father’s funeral and the marasem-e kheirat (memorial service).

I’m very worried about the school situation for next year (which starts in March). I’ve heard that the students in grades 10 to 12 have mostly gone to Iran. In our school, we had nine teachers and a principal; only five teachers are left now. If this continues, many schools will be closed. 


1 In the first round, thirty-seven interviews were done between 19 November and 16 December 2021. In the second round, between 24 January and 19 February, follow-up interviews were done with thirty-four interviewees, and four new interviews were added.
2 Since the fall of the Republic, the exchange rate has been fluctuating between 92 and 129 afghanis to the dollar. In this report 100 AFS = 1 USD.
3 Several people, including this interviewee, have since reported that many teachers have now been paid for the months of Aqrab and Qows (23 October to 21 December 2021).
4 The Taleban’s Commission-e Tasfiya-e Sufuf, or Ranks Clearance Commission, was established in the Ministry of Defence in September 2021 with offices in all provinces (for instance, the Bamyan and Herat offices opened in December 2021). The commission’s stated aim was to clear the Taleban ranks of those who disobeyed orders, misused the public purse (baitulmal), committed arbitrary operations or summary executions or cooperated with ISKP. Anecdotal reports suggest they have also simply told fighters to go home, as described by this interviewee.
5 Describing her experience at the Faizabad government hospital, the woman told us: One morning, I felt so much pain. I went to the hospital with my mother, but the midwives weren’t helping me. First, they said I still had time. Then they said they had to eat their lunch. Finally, my mother forced them to take me to the delivery room, but for 30 minutes, no one came. My situation was getting worse. In the end, almost 10 midwives came and tried to help me, but I had trouble delivering my baby, so they used a [suction] machine. But then the power went off and the machine wasn’t working. 

When the baby finally came out, he wasn’t breathing. They used artificial oxygen and hit my baby many times to make him breathe again. When he was finally breathing, they placed him in a machine. The baby was alive for three days, but then he died. His head and neck had been injured when they hit him. During those three days in the machine, he didn’t sleep even one minute because of the pain. My husband and father called all the good doctors in Faizabad to see if they could help save my baby, but he died in the end. I was in a terrible situation. 

When my mother told the hospital what happened, they wanted to fire the midwife, but she begged them to give her another chance. In the end, the doctors warned the midwives that if it happened again, they would all lose their jobs. If I’d known they would do this to me, I wouldn’t have gone there. There are private hospitals here, but they don’t have the government hospital’s facilities, so everyone goes to the government hospital. I didn’t know the care was this bad.


economic crisis Economy Taleban Taleban takeover winter


Martine van Bijlert

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