Hunger, Poverty Overshadow Ramadan In Afghanistan

Ramadan is usually a time of compassion, charity, and celebration.

But the Islamic holy month has been overshadowed in Afghanistan, the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, by rising hunger, poverty, and joblessness.

As some in the Muslim world break their fast with nightly feasts, millions of Afghans are desperately trying to stave off starvation in a country where many survive on only bread and water.

“We have nothing to eat during iftar,” said Maria, a mother of three who lives in Kabul, referring to the nightly, fast-breaking meal served after sundown throughout the month of Ramadan.

Maria, whose husband is a drug addict, is the sole breadwinner of the family. But the Taliban, which seized power in 2021, has barred most women from working outside their homes.

“We won’t be able to celebrate Eid either,” she said, referring to Eid al-Fitar, the festival that marks the end of Ramadan, which began on March 11 this year.

Abdul Qadir is one of the more than 500,000 Afghan refugees and migrants expelled from neighboring Pakistan since October. Unable to feed his family, he said he cannot observe Ramadan this year.

“It’s impossible to fast when you have nothing to eat [in the evening],” said Qadir, who lives in the eastern province of Laghman. “The economy is absolutely zero. There’s no work.”

Multiple Crises

Ramadan has coincided with a devastating humanitarian and economic crisis in Afghanistan.

Around 24 million people — out of a population of around 40 million — will need life-saving humanitarian support this year, the United Nations said on March 10.

The World Food Program said around 4 million Afghans are acutely malnourished, including over 3 million children under the age of 5.

In a report issued on March 10, the World Bank said Afghanistan was experiencing deflation amid weak economic activity. It also reported a significant decline in Afghanistan’s exports and depreciation of the national currency.

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in 2021 triggered an economic collapse and worsened a major humanitarian crisis. Western donors abruptly cut off assistance and the Taliban government was hit by international sanctions.

Aid groups have continued their humanitarian operations, although major cuts in international funding have restricted their activities.

The Taliban government, which remains unrecognized and under sanctions by the international community, appears unable to address the crises.

Natural disasters like earthquakes and droughts as well as the influx of over 1 million Afghan refugees from neighboring countries recently have further aggravated the already dire humanitarian situation in the war-torn country.

‘I Have Nothing’

Many Afghans are scaling back or even skipping Ramadan altogether this year due to their increasing financial restraints. “Like everyone I know, we suffer enormous economic pressures,” said Mursal, a civil servant under the previous Western-backed Afghan government who is now unemployed.

“I can’t cope with the expectations and demands of Ramadan,” added Mursal, who lives with her family in Kabul..

Nida Ahmadi, a female teacher in the northern province of Parwan, says she took out a loan in order to be able to fully observe Ramadan.

“But even that is not enough,” said Ahmadi, whose monthly salary of around $200 is not enough for her family of seven.

“When I go to the market, I wonder what to buy with the little money I have,” she said.

Written by Abubakar Siddique based on reporting by Faiza Ibrahimi and Sana Kakar of RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi
Hunger, Poverty Overshadow Ramadan In Afghanistan