As hunger crisis deepens in Afghanistan, this Eid, the famed and traditional dastarkhans (dining rugs) are seeing a massive dip in festive meals.
Two years after the Taliban government took over Afghanistan, the country is facing an economic meltdown.
As Muslims celebrate Eid all over the world with prayers and delicacies, millions of Afghans are staring at a festival of hunger and loss.
Over 90% of Afghans do not have enough food to eat, according to the United Nations. Nearly 6 million are at the brink of extreme starvation.
With the UN cutting food rations drastically due to a funding crisis, it has only made matters worse for Afghan families this Eid.
The Reporter’s View
Traditionally, Afghans celebrate Eid by buying new clothes, dried fruit, and an animal to sacrifice known as qurbani.
It is a week-long festival of holidays, visits to friends and families, gifting and eating the special feast or dawat.
Marking the occasion is the traditional and famed dastarkhaan, the family’s dining rug that hosts a generous spread of dishes including breads, meats, fruits, qablipalaw(rice cooked with meats and nuts), biryani (rice steamed with meat), and sheer kurma (dessert).
Families and friends gather around the dastarkhaan, a specialty of Afghan tradition, hand woven with soft wool, silks, and embroidery – and food is shared amid conversations and cheer.
This Eid however, is among the worst in the last many years, with cash-strapped Afghans forced to lay down simple meals of potatoes, dry bread, and tea – and sometimes, nothing more. Many have had to resort to overwhelming measures to cope with hunger and financial loss, including selling their organs or in extreme cases – children, according to a study by the World Food Program.
Reports from the country suggest daily earnings have slumped to between 200-350 Afghanis (approx. 2-4 US dollars). That is not enough to afford three good meals a day or other basic necessities in life.
This decline in purchasing power has also impacted Eid sales this year. “The economy has declined so much in the last two years, that people simply come, check prices, and leave,” shopkeepers are quoted as saying in local media reports. Profits from festive sales have declined by 80%, according to reports.
And more than 30 million of the total 40 million Afghans are now living below the poverty line, the UN has said.
Prosperous, dignified lives
The Taliban’s Supreme Leader, HibatullahAkhunzada, has denied reports of economic crisis being reported across the world’s media.
“The prediction of the country’s economic collapse has been proven wrong,” Akhunzada said in his Eid sermon on 28 June. “Economic collapse has been prevented by the Islamic Emirate’s wise measures,” he said, adding that the country has now become “economically self-sufficient” giving its men and women prosperous and dignified lives.
While there is no data available to support these claims, sources from the country report expired and low-quality food items are finding their way in through the borders. Due to the ever-increasing demand for food and medicines, there is a fast-growing black market of cheap, expired goods.
Authorities in Kabul recently torched 100 tons of expired food items. The Afghanistan Food and Drug Authority seized food products from several locations across the city, claiming these were illegal and unlicensed.A similar incident occurred in Kandahar earlier this month, when authorities set 1,000 tons of expired food and medicines to fire.
While the Taliban denies it, reports from across the world are expressing concern over Afghanistan’s deepening crisis.
The problem is especially severe with women and girls.
With the Taliban placing severe restrictions on women’s rights to work and freedom, households that are run solely by women are facing extreme financial hardships.
Girls are barred from education after the sixth grade and women banned from public life or work, especially for NGOs and the UN.
Women-headed households are now resorting to negative coping strategies, such as selling assets, withdrawing children from school, and skipping meals, according to the WFP.
With a fierce international uproar to the Taliban’s so-called gender apartheid, foreign aid to the country is reaching level zero. The war-torn country’s economy, which was largely dependent on foreign aid, is therefore drying up fast.
Filling up the empty bowls?
The most pressing need facing the Taliban government is to feed its 40 million. What was once a land known for its feasts; is fast approaching an imminent famine.More in this WFP situation report
And the traditional dastarkhaan continues to be a sad reminder of having seen better times.
Holding a special cultural significance, it remains a symbol that binds the community together. Much like the dining room in a house, it is the centerpiece holding colorful fruits and hot meals. It is the place where families share food and conversations.
But with empty bowls fast becoming a common sight in Afghanistan, the country’s people are learning to live with less. Read: Muted Eid celebrations in Afghanistan
“It is hard to understand what hunger is unless you are forced to experience it,” explained a local family in a media report. “Who knows what next Eid is going to bring?”
For now, hosting glorious dastarkhaans have definitely become a thing of the past.