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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Afghanistan in midst of economic crisis as foreign aid dries up

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TORONTO — Since the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan, the country has fallen into the most serious economic slide since the 1990s.

Billions in foreign aid that once supplemented the state budget is now frozen, and everything from food to fuel, and even cash itself, is scarce.

In the main children’s hospital in Kabul, staff dash back and forth in wards full of malnourished babies.

United Nations staff who visited this week are warning of a humanitarian catastrophe.

“There are millions of people that are going to starve,” Omar Abdi, of UNICEF, told CTV News. “And there is winter coming, there is COVID raging.”

It’s the system as a whole that’s on the brink of collapse.

The Afghan currency has plummeted in value. Weekly cash withdrawals are capped at two hundred dollars and savings are inaccessible.

In just one month, gas prices spiked 60 per cent across the country, while the price of a bag of flour jumped 40 per cent. Even a simple can of beans saw a price increase of as high as 30 per cent.

People are selling their carpets and other household goods to buy food, with many parents foregoing meals so that their children can eat.

“It is incredibly sad that over the weeks a humanitarian crisis has just escalated and magnified at an incredible pace,” Mary-Ellen McGroarty, World Food Programme director for Afghanistan, told CTV News.

Three quarters of state spending once came from international organizations, but since the Taliban takeover, financial support has been put on hold.

One employee at a bakery said that workers in Afghanistan are asking the Islamic Emirate to improve relations with neighbouring countries and the rest of the world so that prices go down.

In the Tabasum cafe, the dust on the tables paints an illustrative picture of what’s become of the once lively cafe. The economic downturn, combined with fear of the Taliban, forced the owner, a 23-year-old woman, to lock the doors.

She told CTV News that her all-female staff stopped coming in out of fear that the Taliban would one day come in and beat them.

According to the Taliban, some aid may be on the way — they said Sunday that the U.S. has agreed to provide humanitarian aid while refusing to give recognition to the Taliban as the country’s new leaders.

This weekend, the first direct talks between the U.S. and the Taliban occurred since the U.S. withdrew forces from Afghanistan at the end of August. The U.S. has not provided a clear confirmation of the assistance yet, stating Sunday that the two sides “discussed the United States’ provision of robust humanitarian assistance, directly to the Afghan people.”

With files from CTVNews.ca’s Alexandra Mae Jones

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