Long-terms of war, bloodshed, drought and poverty caused Afghanistan to remain backward for ages. The very current image of this country only displays war, bloodshed with no clear image of hope for the next generations. The disastrous games played out over many generations, whereas the people with many efforts and hardships always tried to recover from the wars but only face new displays of war and conflicts.
In fact, this is the only state where hope finds it hard to take root, where it is a challenge for its people and youths to trust in a better future. Still there are of those who are walking, hopelessly just like a blind man who lost his way to his destination, walking this hard road.
Today, Afghanistan without doubt is to be one of the poorest countries in the world, both economically and politically where the adults make 70% of the population while one quarter of its children die before the age of five and average life expectancy isn’t more than 40.
It is worth mentioning that the pressure of various crises, like Taliban, terrorism, suicide bombings, insurgents, conflicts and political clashes are the top heading of daily news.While on the other hand, the extreme pressure of poverty, inflation, drought, injustice, U.S withdrawal, lack of proper services and many other daily social issues are the main dominated crisis that today the people of Afghanistan are steeped in; while winter is on its way which worries the people more than these crises.
Winter has almost entered in Afghanistan with a freezing temperature, affecting the lives of poor families, particularly those who have no shelter or enough food to cope with this harsh winter. Despite the very recent progress on the ground, millions of Afghans still live in severe poverty with a crumbling infrastructure and a landscape that is suffering from environmental damage, mainly from the bitterly cold temperature, if not, freezing in winter.
Since, 2.5 million people are facing winter without sufficient food, clothing, shelter and living under the caves without stoves for heating in an often below freezing weather, including thousands of orphans who are living in streets, and the government has yet taken no exceptional preparation for these vulnerable families who are going to be the victims of winter.
Many people are without electricity or insulated homes, which makes each day struggle for survival difficult in the mountain villages of remote parts of the country.
The winter in Afghanistan is really harsh enough on its own, but it makes worse without adequate food, potable water, shelter and proper clothing, many people face even death in the face of inadequate facilities in the winter.
However, every year in winter, we witness dozens of deaths aside from the threat of burns, one of the worst problems posed by heating and cooking is the smoke, which according to the World Health Organization, kills 54,000 Afghans each year.
Most of the victims are the children under five, including the poor class people who are using bad quality of wood or fuel in the winter.While above 95% of Afghanistan’s estimated 30 million people burn solid fuels, such as wood and coal, in their homes which make it one of the top 10 countries worst-affected by indoor pollution.
To cut-down the expenses, Afghan families mostly use a wood-burning Bukhari, a drum-shaped stove made of thin metal, or a Sandali, a pit of burning coal under a small table covered by a heavy blanket, which people put their feet under to keep warm.
This causes a killer vapor which can lead to childhood pneumonia, lung cancer, bronchitis and cardiovascular diseases, while it also contributes to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions according to experts. Thus, such indoor pollution mainly affects women and children, because they spend most of their time at home and this indoor smoke kill nearly two million people a year, according to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health.
More dangerously, Inhalation of coal, wood and straw has been related to lung cancer and cancers of the head and neck,chronic exposure to wood smoke also significantly increases the risk of cervical cancer in Human Papilloma Virus infected women. But in a war-torn country like Afghanistan, yet no data was confirmed that how many cancer cases being caused by indoor pollution.
More importantly, the traditional cooking-stoves are still considered to be the best and open fires are the fundamental means of cooking and heating for nearly there billion people, because economically they are quite affordable since the people can’t afford to go for the standard cooking or heating means in Afghanistan.
Last year, winter brought numbers of burns cases and carbon monoxide poisoning. In December, one of Kabul hospitals treated nearly 100 cases of burns caused by heating or cooking, only in one month. Comparing to last year, this year winter seems to be life threatening with harsh and freezing temperatures according a very early and sudden freezing temperature in the country while the inflation hits everyday higher, like 1 (Seer) wood which is equal to 7kgs risen to 100 AFs in the provinces and even higher than this in most remote places and gas reached to 100 Afs per kg.
So a poor man who earns 200 Afs in two days, how would he cope with this problem in such condition? The children run around the rooms and put their hands everywhere near Bukhari to get warm, while this year Bukharis also can’t solve people’s problems due to cold and freezing temperature despite the pressure of severe hunger among families due to this year’s recent drought. Almost three quarters of the people living in the affected areas say that they will run out of food in less than two months.
What Afghan people today need is a swift intervention to save people from starvation in the upcoming months of winter. What they are also required is a long-term investment towards building the resilience of communities facing drought.
Thus, there must be also a quick food and other basic livelihood services delivery among the vulnerable families and a long-term mobilization in the communities in the future by any means so that they would be able to stand on their own feet. In simple words, government must support the people in the form of advocacy so that they would be able to help themselves in the future.
In addition, peace can’t take place in Afghanistan since its population suffers from hunger. In other worlds, people don’t need guns to save their families in winter, they simply don’t need to know when the government settles down without clashes, or solves its own problems with each other. People simply need protection. People need the government to make sure that their families are safe and provided with basic winter requirements.
Above all, those who are really interested in helping Afghans, must realize people’s fundamental needs for survivals. Thus, they must start by making sure that the urban and remote placed families have enough food, medicine and tents to cope with the coming winter. The only things which today Afghans need are food, shelter, clothes, healthcare services, security and medicines.
Since the clashes in Afghanistan is not an easy problem to be solved that soon. Even if the US takes only days to overthrow the Taliban and wipe out al-Qaeda, instituting a new, tolerant government will take decades.
Instead they need to focus on rebuilding Afghanistan and mobilizing people living in poverty by creating job opportunities to make them stand on their feet and assist those families who are in food crises. Such action will help the people to contribute in ending the cycle of extreme poverty themselves one day.
The Article First Published in Daily Outlook Afghanistan Group of Newspapers on November 21, 2011