Wales will not turn away from Afghanistan’s crisis
Wali Mohammad, Chair of Displaced People in Action
As we inch towards the end of 2021, I’m sure that the heartbreaking images from Afghanistan won’t have escaped your attention. The situation in Afghanistan filled our TV screens in the late summer, as families in my homeland scrambled to respond to an event out of their control.
Months on, as we deal with fear the impact of Omicron and try to protect our own families, I hope we have not forgotten those scared and vulnerable families.
Imagine having to deal with this pandemic whilst you and your family had already had to endure years of civil war and now, on top of that, the consequences of increasingly unpredictable weather linked to climate change. That is the reality for millions of people in Afghanistan right now, facing terrible food shortages and even starvation as winter bites.
As I go about my day-to-day work here in Wales helping refugees and asylum seekers who have lived through unimaginable terrors, I have kept in constant contact with friends and families still in Afghanistan.
The sheer scale of the hunger crisis and the suffering it is causing is hard to comprehend. The speed and scale of the collapse is something aid workers have never seen before.
We know what caused it. Of course, the key trigger this time was the recent change of regime in Kabul, which also coincided with the worst drought in nearly 30 years and of course the pandemic, which can spread so much more easily where less than ten percent of the population has been given a vaccination and health services have been decimated.
The reality of all this means that families do not have enough food or money. They have lost their work. They do not have any income. The unimaginable reality is that millions of children are starving. On top of that, winter has arrived with temperatures as low as -12 degrees centigrade.
Like you, I have been watching the news, Facebook and other social media channels and have been horrified at the choices the people of Afghanistan are faced with at this time; desperate choices which no one should have to make just because they are hungry. With no food, no work and nothing to bring to the table, the desperation is heartbreaking.
More than 22 million people are short of food, as many as 8 million are on the brink of famine. Probably most distressing of all, we know children are already dying through malnutrition and a million more under the age of five are at risk of dying over the three coldest winter months ahead. The statistics are hard to get your head around.
For all these reasons, the Disaster Emergency Committee has again launched one of its rare but vital appeals for funds – from me, from you, from anyone or any organisation here in Wales in a position to help.
If you can picture my homeland, in your head – it’s a vast open, rugged landscape – it’s no surprise that through years of turmoil, agriculture has remained the backbone of Afghani livelihoods. Around 70 per cent of Afghans live in rural areas and agriculture accounts for at least 25 per cent of GDP.
The severe drought has destroyed crops and many herders have either seen their livestock die or been forced to slaughter or sell them. Without grain from the previous harvest, they have no money to buy new seeds. The lack of rain is expected to continue well into next year too.
Those existing weaknesses and the ongoing conflict meant Afghanistan was already the poorest country in Asia before the recent battle for Kabul. The Covid-19 pandemic has also devastated income from remittances from families who have moved overseas with inflation sky high and work hard to find. With foreign currency reserves frozen and the banking system unable to provide cash, millions of workers including government employees like doctors and teachers, have not been paid for months. People have been forced to sell possessions to buy essentials or queue for hours to withdraw savings. There are reports that children are being sold by parents just to feed the rest of the family.
This crisis has been decades in the making and it has come to head right now. This will take years to put right but what can be done to help today?
This is where the Disasters Emergency Committee can make the life-saving difference in the critical days and weeks to come. Its 15 UK members have years of experience in these difficult environments and are already coordinating closely with the local authorities and UN agencies to deliver humanitarian assistance in ways that are best suited to the needs of those affected.
With your help, they can rapidly scale up their relief work once again, but there is no time to lose. The immediate priority is getting food packets, including emergency nutrition paste for young children to prevent starvation.
Other priorities are supporting hospitals and health facilities, ensuring shelters are fit for the freezing winter, and providing clean water and sanitation to prevent the spread of diseases, including Covid-19. DEC charities have negotiated access for female aid workers to ensure that the particular needs of women and girls are being met and that they are protected and not excluded.
If you can, I urge you, to help and support the people of Afghanistan. Please don’t delay. A donation of £10 could provide treatment to a child suffering from malnutrition for three weeks – £100 could provide emergency food to a homeless family for three months.
Wales has done a lot for the people of Afghanistan and at this time of need, I know that Wales will not turn away. We will always remember this. The coming generations will always remember your kindness and support for the people of Afghanistan.
Thank you. Diolch. Tashakor. Manena.
Please donate if you can via the website www.dec.org.uk or phone 0370 60 60 610 or text HELPU to 70150 to donate £10.