KABUL: Rising prices, food shortages and impending famine across Afghanistan have cast a shadow this year over the holy month of Ramadan, the first since the Taliban seized control of the country last year.
This year’s Ramadan marks the first peaceful one for many young Afghans who were born after the United States-led occupation in 2001. But the holy month also coincides with a humanitarian situation that has "deteriorated alarmingly" since the Taliban takeover in August, according to the UN, with the economy facing near collapse.
UN agencies estimate more than 24.4 million Afghans, over half of the population, require humanitarian assistance to survive.
“With increasing poverty, lack of income, and roaring prices, even more people won’t have the ability to provide food for their families every day this Ramadan,” Osman Hamim, a development worker and economic expert, told Arab News.
The Taliban interim government, which has yet to be recognized by the international community and currently has no access to the country’s foreign reserves, has said it will assist needy Afghans during Ramadan.
“The era of oppression, corruption and usurpation has ended. For economic development, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has plans inside the country and is in talks with neighboring and other countries,” Bilal Karimi, the Taliban's deputy spokesperson, told Arab News.
“In Ramadan, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is distributing assistance to vulnerable families. The assistance is provided from internal sources and from abroad.”
Many Afghans hope the promise of aid will be fulfilled. They also hope for peace in a month in which violence has always escalated in the past two decades.
One of the worst attacks in Kabul took place during Ramadan in June 2017, when an explosion killed over 150 people and wounded more than 300 others.
This year too, on the first day of Ramadan on Sunday, a blast hit the money exchange hub in Afghanistan's capital Kabul, killing one and injuring dozens.
Even so, Mirwais Azizi, 28, said he was thankful security in Kabul had markedly improved.
“There are still small incidents taking place in Kabul and some other cities but thanks to God we are not witnessing everyday bomb explosions and insurgent attacks like in the past,” Azizi told Arab News.
In the months since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, Kandahar-based aid worker Ahmad Shah Nekzad said he has been able to access remote areas and witnessed that communities across the country were enjoying a relative sense of security.
Feeding the people, however, Nekzad said, remained a major challenge this Ramadan.
“More and more people ask for help every day. We are not able to reach all,” Nekzad told Arab News. “In the absence of war, we must also provide food for the needy. This year Ramadan is going to be very difficult for millions of Afghan families.”
Hamim, the economic expert, said economic stability was “the only way out of the current crisis” since financial challenges risked forcing people towards criminal activities.
“Economic difficulties,” Hamid said, “may push people to join military groups.”