At a UNHCR site, about 15 kilometers outside of Kabul, a large group of men, women and children stand in line under the autumn sun. With coupons in hand, they are eager to enter the complex through a gate guarded by a Taliban soldier.
Inside, UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations are distributing aid to more than 1,000 displaced Afghans from across the country who are now living in Kabul. They are given blankets, plastic sheeting, cooking stoves, buckets, bowls of water, soap, toiletries and cooking utensils. The most vulnerable also receive some cash assistance.
Most people sleep outdoors or in makeshift shelters in one of the two public parks. People who can afford it rent apartments in the city.
As winter approaches, temperatures in the capital already drop to nearly 0°C at night and can drop to -25°C in the middle of winter, putting people sleeping outside at risk of hypothermia.
When people gather their relief supplies, an elderly woman sitting alone on a bench begins to shiver uncontrollably. UNHCR officials rush to her aid, learning that she has not eaten for days and is on the verge of starvation.
“We don’t eat anything for days.”
She is not the only one who needs it most. A mother begs for an extra bundle of cereal so she can feed her children. A 65-year-old man explains that he has been trying to take care of 26 of his relatives since they returned home from Pakistan in July, only to find their home had disappeared. They moved to Kabul, where they have been living outdoors since August.
“We don’t eat anything for days,” he says, adding that a relief supply package for a family of seven doesn’t help much. “But now it’s all.”
Afghanistan faces a worsening humanitarian emergency with the economy on the verge of collapse and nearly half of the population reliant on aid. More than 3.5 million people have been displaced by the conflict in the country, some 700,000 of whom have been forced to flee this year alone.
“I smashed buildings before I escaped from our village,” said Safiullah, 25, who fled Nangarhar district in July. The rockets kept falling near our homes. We had to flee to Kabul when our house caught fire after it was injured.”
Insecurity is not the only factor forcing people to leave their homes. Afghanistan is currently experiencing its second severe drought in four years. Food production is severely affected.
In our province, we had to deal with drought and economic problems. Our farms could not harvest enough and we had no other source of income.
Hunger was widespread even before the Taliban took power two months ago, but the situation has worsened dramatically according to the latest update from the World Food Program. It was mid September Only 5 percent of Afghans have enough to eat And one in three was suffering from severe food shortages.
Over the past two weeks, UNHCR has assisted nearly 100,000 people across Afghanistan by providing emergency shelters, blankets, solar panels and funds to the most vulnerable. Altogether, aid has reached more than half a million displaced people this year so far.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has set up a logistics site in Tarmiz, in neighboring Uzbekistan, to prepare aid there in advance and deliver it quickly to Afghanistan. We are scaling up our response to reach more displaced people before the harsh winter weather sets in, but UNHCR is facing a funding shortfall: at the moment we have only 35 per cent of the funds needed to support operations over the next two months.
Ahmad Siraj, 14, and his family fled Maidan Wardak district in central Afghanistan to seek safety in the capital.
We are a family of 13 and we moved to Kabul after our house was hit by mortars. We just took some things with us and are having economic problems because we can’t find work here. We desperately need help.”
Although the fighting has ended, insecurity still prevails in their area of origin, and the family is too afraid to return.
“I can’t go back.”
According to United Nations figures, about 156,000 displaced people have chosen to return to their homes since the fighting subsided. Last week, UNHCR supported 660 families to return to the northern regions of the country. Returnees receive US$200 per family to pay for transportation and an additional US$400 to help them reintegrate. Another 280 families are receiving assistance to return to the central highlands before the end of October.
But many of those expelled to Kabul are concerned. They had little left to return to, as the battle destroyed their homes and livelihoods.
Helping fugitive Afghans
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