For struggling Afghanistan families, next meal a matter of faith | Gallery News

With the onset of winter, the Afghan widow Cobra needs to find fuel to heat the single room in which eight family members live in the central province of Bamiyan. The flour they bought months ago is running out, so food is also becoming scarce.

“We got two bags of flour last spring and we still use it. After that, we have to believe that God will help us,” said the 57-year-old in a room full of bags of rice to keep the cold out.

Their firewood was stolen as they left their home amid the chaos engulfing Afghanistan, as the Taliban swept towards Kabul on their way to regain control of the country.

Stories like Kubra’s are increasingly common in a country that is suffering from severe drought and has run out of money.

Before the Taliban ousted the Western-backed government in August, the economy was heavily dependent on foreign aid. But with the international community becoming concerned about the group and the United States imposing sanctions on some of its leaders, that support has all but disappeared.

The United Nations estimates that nearly 23 million Afghans – about 55 percent of the population – face extreme levels of hunger, with nearly nine million at risk of starvation with the onset of winter.

Life for the poor of Afghanistan has always been difficult. The Kubra family works on the farms in the spring, earning potatoes instead of money.

But it gets worse. Vegetables like cauliflower are out of reach, and plastic wrap protects their home from freezing weather and snow. There is so little space in the single room that Kubra sleeps in her sister’s house at night.

“My son used to collect pieces of scrap metal but he has no business now,” she said.

After months of severe drought and decades of war that forced many to flee their homes to relatively stable areas like Bamiyan, Afghans are entering the unknown.

“We are not used to eating different types of food, but in the past everything was fine, we had rice and cooking oil,” said Masoumeh, 26, a mother of four from the neighboring district of Maidan Wardak.

“We used to cook once a day and that was fine. Now once a week and sometimes there isn’t even any bread to eat.”

Bamiyan is notorious outside Afghanistan for imposing Buddhist sites dominating the small city, 20 years after the Taliban bombed the two giant statues looking down on the high plains.

In winter it is very cold with temperatures that can drop below freezing and deadly winds.

Business slows down in the colder months, but the area has already been struggling since the visitors who once came to Buddhist sites and nearby Lake Band-e-Amir have disappeared as the Taliban offensive reached its peak.

Taliban officials say they are aware of the problems faced by the poor, which they say stem in part from the effects of more than four decades of conflict and mismanagement under the previous government.

They have also repeatedly called on Washington to release about $9 billion in central bank assets.

“We intend to alleviate these problems,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. “We know what people are up against.”

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