Rising prices, shuttered banks add to misery for Kabul a week after Taleban takeover

People lined up outside a bank in Kabul, on Aug 18, 2021. PHOTO: NYTIMES

KABUL (REUTERS) - A week after the Taleban's lightning seizure of Kabul, growing numbers of people in the Afghan capital are facing a daily struggle to get by with their jobs gone, banks still shuttered and food prices soaring.

The thousands crowded outside the airport entry points and fighting for seats on flights out of Kabul have provided the starkest image of the turmoil in the city since the Western-backed government collapsed.

But as the days pass, everyday worries about food and rent are adding to the uncertainty in a country whose fragile economy has been crushed by the disappearance of international support.

"I am totally lost, I don't know what should I think about first, my safety and survival or feeding my kids and family," said a former policeman, now in hiding who has lost the US$260 (S$354) a month salary that used to support his wife and four children.

Like many lower level government employees, who have often gone long periods without being paid, for the past two months he has not even received that.

"I'm living in a rental apartment, I have not paid the owner for past three months," he said.

During the week he said he tried to sell a couple of rings and a pair of earrings belonging to his wife, but like many businesses, the gold market was closed and he could not find a buyer.

"I am very helpless and don't know what to do."

Even before the Taleban swept into the city on Aug 15, conditions had been getting worse, with the insurgents' rapid advance through the provincial cities sending the value of the local afghani currency plunging against the dollar and pushing prices of basic foodstuffs ever higher.

Prices of staples like flour, oil and rice have risen by as much as 10-20 per cent in a few days and with banks still closed, many people have been unable to access their savings. With Western Union offices also closed, remittances from overseas have also dried up.

"Everything is because of the dollar situation. There are some food shops open but the bazaars are empty," said one former government employee now in hiding for fear of reprisal by the Taleban.

While traffic has restarted over the main land borders into neighbouring Pakistan, severe drought conditions across the country have exacerbated the hardships many face and driven thousands to the cities to try to survive in tents and makeshift shelters.

On Sunday, international aid groups said the suspension of commercial flights into Afghanistan meant there was no way of getting in supplies of medicines and other aid.

Now, the hardship is increasingly reaching into the cities, hitting the lower middle classes who had seen an improvement in their standard of living in the two decades since the Taleban were last in power.

"Everything is finished. It wasn't just the government that fell, it was thousands of people like me whose lives depended on a monthly salary of around 15,000 afghanis (US$200)," said a government employee who did not want to be quoted by name.

"We are already in debt because the government haven't paid our salaries for the past two months," he said. "My elderly mother is sick, she needs medicine, and my children and family need food. God help us."

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