Desperate Kabul residents sell to beat the Winter

KABUL, Dec 21 (Reuters) - The people of Kabul are selling their possessions to survive another winter at war.

On both sides of the crowded old bazaar, they have piled up television sets, children's cradles, carpets and clothes to get a little cash for food and warmth in sub-zero temperatures.

``I want to sell them to feed my children, to survive the winter,'' says Mohammad Sharif, an old man polishing a Russian tea pot he has had for seven years but wants to sell.

Nearly 20 years of war have ruined the economy, driven up food prices and forced tens of thousands of Kabul's one million residents to barter their household goods for survival.

``In the absence of revival of Kabul economy, people have little hope for things to get better,'' said Patrick Vial of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Having a job does not necessarily make much difference. Civil servants, working since the Taleban militia seized control in September last year, have seen the Afghan currency depreciate to a point where its buying power is equivalent to little more than $5 a month.

Wood to heat a small house for a month, when night-time temperatures are 20 Celsius below zero, costs twice that. And much of the heat is lost to the clear night sky because houses have been wrecked and windows smashed in the battle for the capital. Most of the city's one million population are vulnerable as the middle class gets poor and the poor become destitute. There are some 30,000 widows, over 10 thousand invalids and disabled as well as some 60,000 street children who scavenge paper from rubbish pits, collect twigs to sell for kindling and wander the streets alternately begging and selling. Roshan is selling his fridge.

``I could not find anyone to buy it. It's probably the same with most of people here as there are not enough rich pockets in the city to buy anything,'' he lamented, surveying the impromptu street sale in the old bazaar.

``There is not much I can manage with the salary I get. Borrowing money is an option, But for how long? And there is no guarantee I can pay it back,'' Roshan said.

``Better to sell my fridge now to have at least some money to last for a month. Stretching my hand (begging) is boring.'' The ICRC's Vial said half of the city's population received some sort of help from aid agencies, but it was not enough.

``You see more and more children, women and men begging on the streets than before, which is growing and worrying and a sign of desperation,'' he told Reuters.

The United Nations estimates that as many as half of houses were destroyed or severely damaged during fighting for the capital last year. Many houses have no glass in windows and plastic sheeting does not provide any insulation, an aid worker said. Half the city lacks electricity. Food prices are soaring as the value of the Afghan currency drops.

The Afghani has lost at least 10 percent over the past week because of an influx of new bank notes with old serial numbers imported to Kabul from an unknown destination, dealers said. It was 28,600 Afghanis to the dollar on Wednesday against 26,500 one week ago. The only alternative, say Kabul residents, is to sell what they have in the hope that those with money to spare -- and there seem to be few -- will buy goods such as Ghafar's old carpet.

``Food and fruit is abundant in Kabul. But prices are high. There are many families who cannot afford to eat meat. There is little chance of getting a fair price for my carpet and that means relying on relatives and borrowing money.'' said Ghafar.

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