Four months after the Taliban seized power, Obaidullah Alikhil found himself unemployed and struggling to make ends meet as his son laid in bed with no strength to even open his eyes as he battles malnutrition.
Weighing around 12 pounds, 2-year-old Mohammed Alikhil was first admitted to the hospital in the summer of 2021, as the U.S. prepared to retreat its troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s power continued to grow. He was hospitalized for 21 days due to severe diarrhea, Alikhil told ABC News in December.
At the end of his stay, he was brought back home. But his condition, according to Alikhil, only got worse, leading to another hospital visit.
Several hospital visits and medications did not help with Mohammed’s recovery. With no solution, the bills continued to pile up, and the family’s financial situation became even more challenging.
Mohammed is one out of millions of Afghans on the brink of starvation as their families run out of money. More than 23 million Afghans face acute hunger, including 9 million who are nearly famished, according to the UNICEF World Food Program.
By mid-2022, the U.N. Development Program estimates that 97% of Afghanistan’s population will “plunge” into poverty. Up to 1 million children under 5 could die by the end of the year due to the country’s food crisis and the lack of water and sanitation services, according to UNICEF.
The cold weather brought by the winter season makes the situation even more complicated. To keep Mohammed warm, Alikhil boils water and sets the kettle near his bed.
The struggle to keep their homes warm could increase the risk of illnesses, according to UNICEF. If a child is malnourished, the risks of getting sick are higher, and the recovery could take longer.
“We are approaching a critical juncture for Afghanistan’s children, as winter brings with it a multitude of threats to their health,” Abdul Kadir Musse, a former UNICEF Afghanistan representative, said in a Jan. 15 press release.
“There is no time to lose. Without urgent, concerted action — including ensuring we have the resources to deploy additional cash transfers and winter supplies — many of the country’s children will not live to see spring,” he said.
The financial situation among Afghans becomes even more challenging, following the freezing of more than $9 billion in assets after the Taliban took power last August.
The measure to freeze foreign reserves was taken as a way to prevent the resources from falling into the Taliban’s hands. The U.N. has about $135 million in aid in Afghanistan but it can’t access the money since the Taliban-run central bank lacks the infrastructure to convert it to afghani, the country’s currency.
As a way to meet the needs of families, UNICEF launched a $2 billion appeal in December as a way to respond to the needs of over 24 million Afghans. The appeal will “help avert the collapse of health, nutrition, WASH, education and other vital social services for children and families.”
The U.S. is also taking part in providing aid to Afghanistan as it deals with a growing humanitarian crisis. In January, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced a contribution of over $308 million in humanitarian assistance for Afghans, bringing the total amount of aid in the country to nearly $782 million since October 2020.
“The United States continues to urge the Taliban to allow unhindered humanitarian access, safe conditions for humanitarians, independent provision of assistance to all vulnerable people and freedom of movement for aid workers of all genders,” a press release stated at the time. “We will continue to work to alleviate the suffering of the Afghan people and call on other donors to continue to contribute to this international response.”
The U.S., however, is under growing pressure to unfreeze Afghanistan’s assets. The Taliban met with western diplomats from the U.S., Britain, France, Italy and Norway in January during a series of closed-door meetings in Oslo to discuss the humanitarian crisis affecting millions of Afghans.
It marked the first official talks since the group seized power six months ago.
“We are requesting them to unfreeze Afghan assets and not punish ordinary Afghans because of the political discourse,” Taliban delegate Shafiullah Azam told The Associated Press on Jan. 23. “Because of the starvation, because of the deadly winter, I think it’s time for the international community to support Afghans, not punish them because of their political disputes.”
For people like Alikhil, they struggle to find opportunities in a country under conflict and the Taliban’s leadership.
“All I want from them is to create a job opportunity [for us] so our lives get better. I am an educated person. I need a job so I can serve the country,” he said. “There is no job, no money.”
Without money and resources, some families are forced to make horrific decisions to make some money — even if it means selling their children.
“As of now, this child belongs to me; I have the right to sell him,” Khoday Ram, who is struggling to feed himself and his family, told ABC News. “If things would have been better, I would have let him study. But we’ve been left like this.”
“It’s normal to sell our daughters, but the situation is so bad, I have to sell my son because we’re hungry,” he said. “What happens to my son once I sell him is not up to me. He could end up being killed, or he could be allowed to go to school.”
Others are left with the choice to sell their organs in exchange for some money to buy a meal.
“I couldn’t go out and beg for money, I was not able to beg. Then I decided to go to the hospital and sell my kidney, so I could at least feed my children for some time,” Ghulam Hazrat told ABC News.
With over 2.5 million registered Afghan refugees, they consist of one of the largest refugee populations in the world. Approximately 2.2 million have relocated to Iran and Pakistan, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. Due to the growing conflicts and the rise of the Taliban to power, the UNHCR predicts the number will continue to rise.
While Alikhil struggles to find a job so he can provide for his family, what keeps him hopeful is Mohammed and his recovery after getting the strength to open his eyes once again.
“Only God knows the future, what will happen, whether we will get help or not,” he said. “In our community here, until now, we didn’t get any kind of help yet, neither money or flour. So far no one has helped us.”
“All I want is to earn something so I can take care of my family’s expenses, that’s it,” Alikhil said.