The weather has shifted from early fall warmth to a brisk chill. Drought has been reported in several regions, adding to the sense of impending disaster.
A gathering of several hundred men had assembled at Maidan Wardak, 50 kilometres west of Kabul, in the hopes of receiving grain from an official distribution site. The World Food Programme provided the flour.
The throng was kept relatively quiet by Taliban guards, but those who were told they weren’t qualified for a handout were enraged and terrified.
“Winter is almost here,” one elderly gentleman observed. “I’m not sure how I’ll make it if I can’t make bread.”
The World Food Programme (WFP) will have to increase its supplies to Afghanistan in order to help more than 22 million people.
If the weather turns out to be as severe as forecasters say this winter, significant numbers of people would face acute hunger and widespread famine.
When the WFP’s executive director, David Beasley, paid a visit to Kabul on Sunday, a BBC executive spoke with him.
His assessment of the situation was ominous.
“It’s as horrible as you can imagine,” Mr Beasley explained. “In truth, we’re in the midst of the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.”
“Ninety-five percent of the population lacks sufficient food, and 23 million people are on the verge of hunger,” he continued. “It’s going to be a disaster in the next six months.” On Earth, it’s going to be hell.”
Before the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August, there was optimism that, with foreign assistance, President Ashraf Ghani’s government would be able to deal with the threat of a harsh winter. When Mr. Ghani’s government fell apart, that assistance vanished.
Western countries have shut off aid to the country because they don’t want to be regarded as supporting a regime that forbids girls from attending school and wants to reinstate the full gamut of sharia punishments.
Will such governments simply stand by and let millions of innocent people starve to death?
Mr. Beasley challenges developed-world governments and billionaires to acknowledge the urgent need for assistance.
“Imagine this was your little girl, your little boy, or your grandchild ready to starve to death,” he addressed to world leaders and billionaires. “You’d do everything you could, and shame on us when there’s $400 trillion worth of riches on the planet today.”
“We allow any child to starve to death. We should be ashamed of ourselves. I don’t give a damn about where that child is “he continues.
We went to visit a widow, Fatema, and her seven children, ages three to 16, in Bamiyan, central Afghanistan, where the Taliban destroyed the old and exquisite Buddha statues carved into the cliffside in the 6th century in 2001.
Her husband recently passed away from stomach cancer.
They are destitute and dwell in a cave beside a large alcove in the cliff where one of the Buddhas once stood.
Fatema used to be able to receive flour and oil on a fairly regular basis under the previous government, but that ended when the Taliban took over.
Fatema used to supplement her income by weeding the land for a local farmer. However, due to the drought that has afflicted her area, fewer crops have survived, and she is now unemployed.
“I’m terrified,” she admits. “I don’t have anything to give the kids. I’ll have to go out and beg soon.”
Some parents have married off their daughters to older men. That is something Fatema has refused to do. However, until the food supply is restored, she and her children will risk famine.
The snow is starting to fall on the adjacent mountain peaks, and the air has a fresh sharpness to it.
Winter will arrive shortly, and millions of people, including Fatema and her family, will be on the verge of disaster.