Afghanistan Plunges Deeper into Catastrophe

Sophia Vlahakis, Editor-in-Chief, News and Sports

The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan on the promise of alleviating previous standards from its earlier regime, but now, 20 years of progress are dangerously close to being erased. Afghanistan is falling apart, facing a major humanitarian crisis and a disastrous economy. 

While there is debate regarding whether or not the United States was justified in entering Afghanistan and intervening, the expansion of women’s rights was an accomplishment. The Taliban had severely curtailed the independence and liberties of all women during the 1990s. Females were banned from holding jobs and attending school, and they had to wear burqas and be chaperoned by males. American involvement reversed these standards, allowing women to become involved in public life. In the Taliban’s resurgence, women were supposed to be able to maintain these basic freedoms.

Prior to American withdrawal, women made up 20% of the Afghan workforce. Now, a government order has caused most women to discontinue working, and the few that remain to do so are going uncompensated: a reflection of gender inequality and a struggling economy. The percentage of girls in secondary school rose from zero to nearly 40% over the course of American occupation. Now, girls have been barred from receiving any education higher than primary school and are to be educated separately from boys. The Taliban has also set dress requirements, banned television networks from streaming shows and movies with actresses, and set travel restrictions such as one that requires women to travel with a male relative for extended distances. The Taliban has even restricted women from using communal bathhouses, as they previously had done in their last rule. The bathhouses, known as hammams, are used by women for ritual cleansing and purification under Islamic law. As well, hammams are the only opportunity for most women to access warm water.

The whole world is aware of these ongoing human rights violations, and the United States and United Nations are not going to formally recognize the new government until the Taliban has fully shown a commitment to protecting and respecting these rights—beginning with women. To try and influence the Taliban, the United States and United Nations froze nearly $10 billion of Afghanistan’s assets, but this restriction of financial aid is crippling the economy. Over the past two decades, the Afghan government has come to be dependent on foreign aid with 80% of the nation’s budget coming from international donor funds. With the suspension of aid, Afghanistan is left without the resources to create and maintain jobs, fund hospitals and keep schools operating. With a government that has already betrayed its promises to be fairer, the terms for delivering financial aid may have to be adjusted to prevent Afghanistan from complete, irrecoverable devastation.

The entire country is on the brink of starvation. The UN estimates that 97% of the population is living below the poverty line, meaning that Afghanistan is dangerously close to “universal poverty.” Just a year ago, only about 50% of the population was living below this threshold. Currently, 20 million people are fighting famine and one million children under the age of five are threatened with immediate starvation. 

In the coming months, the helpless situation is only going to worsen. It’s estimated that 700,000 jobs will soon be lost, and the harsh winter will continue to further devastate families. Many Afghans don’t have access to an immediate water supply, let alone a clean one, and the public pumps and water trucks are drastically insufficient.  Most can not afford firewood, coal or other basic goods, as the Afghan dollar is losing its value and nearly no one can afford the rise in prices—especially since many have not been paid since American troops left. Families are so desperate that they are selling their children and internal organs just to eat dinner and survive for one more day. 

The state of Afghanistan is tragic: rights are vanishing, unemployment is soaring, hospitals can barely function and nearly the entire population is starving. In power of this heartless situation is a militant group that has only ever demonstrated a blatant disregard for human rights, and expecting the Taliban, who publicly beats citizens, to reverse its record of immoral actions is doubtful. Easing sanctions and providing financial aid may be a moral obligation for the international community. Even with US troops evacuated, it’s difficult to turn a blind eye to Afghanistan.