Reuters, April 24, 2009

Taliban mean nothing to Afghanistan’s hungry farmers

The famers of Humayun say they have received no aid of any kind. What little help there is goes to those with connections.

By Emma Graham-Harrison

Mohammed Ali has no idea that the Taliban who once drove him from his home are staging a comeback in parts of Afghanistan.

Despite a July 2008 joint emergency appeal for US$404 million to help the most vulnerable 550,000 pregnant and lactating women and under-five children in Afghanistan, nutritious food aid - specially fortified food -is yet to reach those in need. Some 24 percent of lactating women are malnourished, over 19 percent of pregnant women have a poor nutritional status (low on minerals, vitamins, food insecure and weak) and about 54 percent of under-five children are stunted, according to a joint survey by UN agencies and the government.
IRIN, Mar. 31, 2009

As a hired farmer, he is too busy worrying how to feed a family of seven on $100 a year. At the moment his children live off just bread and tea, but that is better than the harsh winter months when there is sometimes nothing.

"My children ask for bread and I have to deceive them, I say I will buy it tomorrow," he told Reuters, while sipping watery tea during a break from working a field with just a spade.

A growing insurgency in south and eastern Afghanistan is absorbing the attention of the government in Kabul and Western nations backing it with their troops and money.

But many Afghans face a more urgent daily battle against poverty and hunger.

"I'm illiterate and we don't have electricity. How would I know what is going on in other provinces," said Ali's companion Qurban, who like many Afghans uses only one name.

Both men earn meagre wages growing potatoes and wheat on the land of a richer family with an official post.

Their home, Bamiyan province, was an anti-Taliban stronghold that was razed by the militants when they finally captured it.

Many men were killed for their resistance. Thousands of other residents -- mostly ethnic Hazaras who practice Shi'ite Islam -- were forced to flee the area until the Sunni Muslim, mainly ethnic-Pashtun Taliban were driven from power in 2001.

Bamiyan is now one of the safest parts of the country, a long way off from the insurgency the Taliban are waging in the south and east. But in the valley peace has not made life easy.

Children are losing out on education, even though schools are supposed to be free.

"I stopped going to classes after seventh grade, because my father is old and couldn't manage the farming alone," said Ghafor Ramazon, 16, tilling potatoes on a wealthy landlord's land.

He hopes to keep his younger brothers in school through his work, but together with his father brings home just $120 a year.

Poverty and Afghan children
Poverty hits over 85% of the Afghan people.


Western nations supporting President Hamid Karzai are pouring vast amounts of aid into Afghanistan.

But most cash is spent in areas with the worst insurgency problems, to show locals that they can reap gains from rejecting the Taliban. Quiet areas get comparatively little, penalised for being at peace, said Bamiyan's governor, Habiba Sorabi.

"The policies of the international community were mostly caring about security," Sorabi, Afghanistan's only female provincial boss, told Reuters this month. She has lobbied hard to bring more assistance to Bamiyan.

"We were able to solve some of that and get some aid, but still there are many problems," she added, listing poverty, poor transportation and joblessness. "The support is never enough."

The famers of Humayun say they have received no aid of any kind. What little help there is goes to those with connections.

"I would do anything -- construction or security," Ali said. "The main problem for our village is that we don't have work."

(Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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