Kabul’s poor demand attention
KABUL (Reuters) – Kabul’s residents have called on delegates at next week’s international talks on Afghanistan in Bonn to put their needs on the agenda, saying the government is not doing enough to alleviate poverty and hunger in the Afghan capital.
Those living in Kabul’s poorest quarters are at the sharp end of a country where unemployment is believed to run as high as 40 percent, violence scars day to day life, and nearly half the population has no access to clean drinking water.
A decade after delegates attended the first Bonn conference on Afghanistan with high hopes for its future, the gathering in the former West German capital on Monday is likely to take on a rather more sober mood.
Despite 2001’s optimism and the billions of aid dollars that have poured into the country since that year, many of its people are still living in abject poverty.
“At the conference, they should be helping the poor,” Kabul fruit seller Sardar Wali told Reuters. “When aid dollars go into the pockets of Afghan ministers, mayors or the government, it doesn’t do anything for poor people.”
“We want a man who will work for our country (to represent us), not a man who will get funding and build tall buildings.”
In eastern Kabul, hundreds of people live under canvas, mainly internally displaced persons from provinces such as Helmand in the south and Baghlan in the north, where fighting has been fierce.
Tendrils of white smoke curl above the rows of white tents in which they live, while outside children busy themselves in the street, doing laundry and collecting water in plastic bottles from a hose.
The United Nations estimates that up to half a million Afghans are currently internally displaced, most fleeing violence or the drought that has left three million Afghans facing hunger, malnutrition and disease this year.
Among them is Waheeda, who lives in one of the tents in Kabul’s eighth district. She displays a picture of her two sons — one has been killed, while the other has disappeared — and says the government is doing little to help her and her grandchildren.
“I’m dying of hunger, I’m dying of thirst,” she says.
“It costs me five Afghanis to buy water. I have young grandchildren. I hope the government gives me some support, because I have a lot of problems in life.”
Afghanistan is one of the world’s biggest aid recipients, receiving an estimated $16 billion this year.
But in Kabul, public roads are crumbling and the electricity supply is intermittent at best, while country-wide only a fifth of households have sanitary toilet and washing facilities.
Residents say it is these basics that they want to see addressed in Bonn.
“For almost three years, we have been living in tents,” Mohammed Ibrahim, a community elder of the group of refugees living in the canvas village, said.
“We ask whether the international community, or the Afghan President himself, will give us food and shelter.”
(Reporting by Sayed Hassib Sadat; Writing by Jan Harvey; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa)
Mochila insert follows.