Salma, aged seven, stands in the window of her house nested in a slum in the eastern city of Khost.[Ingebjorg Karstad/NRC]
Published On 10 Aug 2022
Rows of mud huts put together in a rush. Plastic roofs popping out in the dusty spaces. Improvised tents tucked into the corners of narrow streets.
Millions of displaced and impoverished people in Afghanistan have found a safe haven in the enclaves around bigger cities, which over time have grown into slum-like areas.
Today, these crowded spaces host entire communities driven out of their homes by decades of conflict, disasters and political instability.
It is also here that one can meet people hit the hardest by the sudden economic collapse which followed the end of the war in Afghanistan – the highest price that most Afghans have been paying for peace.
The world was unprepared for the lightning-quick takeover of Kabul by the Taliban in August last year. The international community felt it was left with few options but to cut off Afghanistan’s main lifeline – foreign aid, which the country had historically been almost entirely dependent on.
Over the past year, millions of lives have been hit by the strict measures leading to the withdrawal of humanitarian support and limitations imposed on the country’s financial systems.
The liquidity crisis, cash shortages, the collapse of the banking system and Western sanctions – for the displaced people dwelling in makeshift settlements, the complex financial terms circulating in the Afghan context stand for only one thing: shocking levels of poverty.
Staggering numbers of Afghans are unable to access their salaries or lifetime savings, while the increased costs of living and scarce job opportunities have driven entire families into mounting debt.
Most people have nothing to spend and shrinking demand for basic goods has forced small businesses to shut down. In the shadow of the Ukraine war, the prices of food and essential products have skyrocketed, placing them out of reach for the destitute communities.
There are approximately 2.5 million people living in Afghanistan’s slums. For them and many others across the country, survival is a struggle and the daily price they are paying for this fragile peace.
*This photo essay is provided by the Norwegian Refugee Council
A torn-up drawing of the Afghan flag found in one of the Kabul slums. After decades marked by foreign intervention, the future for Afghanistan is bleak and uncertain. The recent economic collapse and political isolation of the Taliban-led state have resulted in staggering levels of poverty. Humanitarian workers are scrambling to prevent a catastrophe. [Ingebjorg Karstad/NRC]
Sayed sits in a wheelbarrow in front of his house in a settlement in Khost. He used to work as a day labourer on construction sites or at the local market. “Since the Taliban takeover, none of us has been able to find a proper job. We are living hand to mouth; if we manage to find some work, we use that money straight away to buy food for the day,” he says. The workers who used to earn up to $6 per day, now go home with 70 cents, if they are lucky. [Ingebjorg Karstad/NRC]
A man gets bread from a local bakery in Khost. In Afghanistan, bread is synonymous with survival and 60 cents worth of bread is barely enough to feed a small family. Many households, making as little as $1 a day, had to dramatically reduce their food intake over the past year. Their meal sometimes consists of just bread and tea. Some bakeries are offering charity donations, giving out free bread on Thursday evenings. They are also forced to pay their staff in bread due to the scarcity of cash available in the country. [Ingebjorg Karstad/NRC]
Kokogul remembers the recent flood which cost her everything, standing in her tent in Kabul’s slums. She first left her home in Nangahar province decades ago, fleeing the Soviet invasion. In 2013, her family was deported from Pakistan where they had sought refuge. They arrived in Afghanistan in the middle of winter, with just a few belongings and nowhere to live. Kokogul's family settled in a makeshift house in Kabul but lost absolutely everything in a flood just a year after: “When the flood came, there was so much water, it suddenly hit all the shelters and I was swept away. I was holding my baby son. They pulled me out of the water with the baby in my arms.” [Ingebjorg Karstad/NRC]
A man walks around the demolished slums in Kabul. Up to half a million families in Afghanistan in urban slums are now facing the prospect of homelessness, following increasing pressure from the authorities to return internally displaced people to their areas of origin. But many of these provinces have endured decades of neglect and are unprepared for large numbers of people coming back. Demolitions of makeshift homes have already begun in Kabul, and areas in the west of the country are under imminent threat of evictions, creating serious concerns about possible new waves of displacement. [Ingebjorg Karstad/NRC]
An Afghan family’s belongings on sale in the Kabul slums. Displaced families have used up all their savings and are now selling everything they have left just to get through the year: “Whatever savings we had; we have used up since the Taliban takeover. There is nothing left for us. We had to sell some of our house furniture as well.” [Ingebjorg Karstad/NRC]
Jan Mohammed sits in his tent in Kabul. When he suffered a severe injury during work five years ago, he sold his property and moved to a makeshift camp with his family in search of medical care. He is still immobile and unable to work but needs to take his medicines daily. [Ingebjorg Karstad/NRC]
Jan Mohammed’s wife Belqis, (right), and daughter Zubaida are cleaners and the main breadwinners in the family. If they happen to find work in Kabul, they might earn $1 a day. Sometimes they are paid in rice or wheat flour. There are months when they struggle to pay the rent for their tent, resting on private land. Early last year Zubaida was enrolled at school, but after only 10 days, her parents asked her to drop out so that she could start supporting the family. [Ingebjorg Karstad/NRC]
A few potatoes, onions, peppers, garlic cloves and a little flour – everything the Afghan family has in storage to make it through the day. “Me and my wife have just one meal a day, we make sure the children have two meals a day. It has been like this since August last year. What would you do if you were a parent facing food shortages? Would you eat, or would you go hungry to make sure your children eat?” Jan asks. To ease the hunger pains in their stomach Jan and Belqis are taking pills. They have both lost a lot of weight. [Ingebjorg Karstad/NRC]
Jan Mohammed shows his injured foot. “The medicines I am taking are more important than my own food. We had a house and land in Jalalabad, but I had to sell it all to afford my surgery and medical care. If I don’t take my medication, I will lose my foot,” he says. [Ingebjorg Karstad/NRC]
A waiting ticket guaranteeing a spot in the Azizi Bank’s cash withdrawal queues. The collapse of the banking sector has left many Afghans unable to access their money. Every day, the Azizi Bank faces queues stretching in front of its building from the early morning hours. The crowd is managed through a ticketing system, put in place to ensure everyone keeps their place in the line. International restrictions have prevented the Afghan central bank from using its frozen foreign funds, which led to limited availability of cash in the country, forcing the banks to introduce weekly limits on withdrawals. [Ingebjorg Karstad/NRC]
An empty food stall in the streets of Khost. Afghanistan’s economic collapse and the impact of international sanctions have cascaded a range of major challenges for local businesses, which stand empty amid people’s inability to purchase goods. [Ingebjorg Karstad/NRC]
Rasool Mohammed with his phone in the slums of Khost. Afghanistan’s poor economic outlook leaves little hope for the youth. The young man has struggled to find employment in Khost, where his family settled 20 years ago after returning from Pakistan. Rasool has attempted to reach Europe multiple times through Iran and Turkey. Two of his friends died trying to cross the treacherous routes. “Every day the work situation worsens. I do not believe in the future now.” [Ingebjorg Karstad/NRC]