5 Things I Wasn't Aware About Afghanistan Humanitarian Crisisby Helmy Sa'at
We all watched either in frustration, anger, horror, sadness or a mix of every imaginable emotion as the last American military plane flew out of Kabul Airport, Afghanistan, on 30th August 2021. It seemed apparent to many then that it was a clear signal marking the end of a war that has lasted two decades; costing billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of precious lives.
The repercussions are still reverberating around the world. While political pundits continue debating the matter on countless forums in the media, the war did not simply end there.
Weeks before the 31st August deadline, all around the globe, media outlets beamed images of the Afghan people risking their lives in an attempt to leave their country after the Taliban is back in power. What about those who are not as fortunate with their options, or have chosen to stay in their beloved country? A country which is still rife in conflict and heartache after decades of occupation by foreign powers and tribal infighting.
We are constantly inundated by news on traditional media compounded by dizzying layers of opinions on social media. This has created room for our minds and souls to be desensitised. Numb towards the suffering of the Afghan people over time. Normalising the Afghanistan humanitarian crisis should never happen on our watch. They deserve our attention and help in whatever form it may be. Therefore, as part of the global ummah, we need to be accountable in learning more and understanding the evolving crisis.
The Devil’s Bloom
One of the most associated symbols of Afghanistan is the poppy. Harmless at first glance, yet lucratively deadly. These red flowers in the wrong hands are harmful to mankind. Opium, an addictive opiate, is derived from it. Afghanistan tops the world as the leading producer of opium based on findings of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), published this year. It is responsible for more than 80 per cent of the world’s opium production which generated more than 100,000 jobs for the Afghan people, in 2019. 284 hectares of land alone was used to farm poppies in Kabul. It is equivalent to more than 500 football fields! That means a profitable economic activity which generates income.
However, why does it still remain as one of the world’s poorest countries according to the World Bank?
An estimated USD$100 million to USD$400 million was absorbed by the Taliban which operates the illicit drug trade. With most poppy cultivation being on land controlled by the Taliban, it is no surprise that such profits did not and still does not trickle down to the population, and benefit the economy as a whole. Instead, billions of dollars are being pumped into Afghanistan, for instance, by the World Bank. Funding of development projects that continue to plunge the country into an ever deepening abyss of debt.
Displaced Communities in Ever Changing Climate
Instability, violence and human rights abuse escalate in times of conflict. The Afghan people are no strangers to such dire circumstances which force them to constantly flee for their lives. Limitations on access to food, safe drinking water, washing facilities, basic health and nutrition services continually batter the Afghan people.
Moreover, under prolonged conflict and violence on top of the ongoing pandemic, the already fragile healthcare system is overwhelmed with hundreds of thousands of Afghans deprived of access to care and psychological support.
What many of us do not realise is the added impact of climate change on Afghanistan. Alas, global warming compounds the suffering of the Afghan people by many folds. In 2018 alone, approximately 275,000 people were displaced internally. Additionally, an increase in frequent and severe droughts and floods further impedes the ability of Afghanistan to feed its own people.
Urgent Compassion for Afghan Children
In times of war, children, women and the elderly become the most vulnerable group. Uncertainty of a decent life after having to flee their homes, deprived of education and social networks besides being stripped of basic, everyday necessities, such as food and water, put Afghan children at risk of stunted growth and development as healthy individuals.
According to United Nations Children’s Fund Afghanistan (UNICEF), a million children under the age of 5 are going to be severely or acutely malnourished. What we need to grasp is this: albeit there are sufficient aid supplies in the short-term, the need for constant replenishment arises due to the severe circumstances. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to 10 million Afghan children in need of humanitarian assistance. They are, after all, the future backbone of the country for any hope of stability and peace.
Education Equals Empowerment
A lot of activities have to be suspended when caught in a war zone and continually forced to stay in flux. This is especially pertinent for young Afghan girls and women in relation to their roles in Afghan society. Only 38% of girls out of 7 million students are currently enrolled in schools.
Education remains the key to a better future. The young Afghan generation deserves equal opportunity for advancement in life because they are the future lifeline of the country’s economy.
However, with the Taliban in power, the present state and future of Afghan girls and women are in jeopardy. Uncertainties loom large and have enveloped any speck of hope. Since the Taliban takeover, all over the news and social media, we have been seeing reports on how females have stopped going to schools altogether in fear of their safety and lives.
Recently, the European Union (EU) pledged a billion Euros in order to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Do we instantly cheer after hearing such numbers? It has never been just about crass transaction. Meanwhile, the United Nations (UN) stated that it needs US$200 million to continue funding existing needs encompassing food supplies and transportation, for Afghanistan. This points to the complex systems of navigating aid and funding under such extraordinary circumstances.
We should also not rejoice at the feeling of instant gratification masquerading as hollow activism whenever we donate any amount of money. Our donations do not end with the push of a button on a banking page. There are bumps along the way even for international aid agencies, such as the UN, in relaying help/aid in whatever form.
The UN experiences operational issues from time to time. It could involve anything and everything; from something as straightforward as transporting food which requires multiple contractors and logistical partners to one as complicated as money transfers that involve sanctions on an international level imposed upon Afghan banks by other countries.
After learning about this information, specifically the 5 things I have shared in more depth about the Afghanistan humanitarian crisis, and having our smartphones in our hands, what can we do? It is easy to spiral into anxiety and eventually paralyse into inaction stemming from the belief that our contributions do little to nothing to alleviate the situation.
However, that is absolutely not true!
We are still in control. Always start with baby steps. Talk about it. Create awareness by sharing with your family and friends besides posting on your social media accounts. Pair our prayers with small actions. Check out Muslim Pro’s support towards UNICEF’s Afghanistan Emergency fund and donate today to make a difference to the lives of millions of children in Afghanistan, as a start.