UNDP Afghanistan Dispatch

August 30, 2021

By our staff member in Kabul

“When I look out of my window or go out to buy groceries there is a different mood in the city,” says one of our national colleagues. We are not naming him for safety reasons.

 “People are very quiet and silent; you can see the sadness on their faces.

“Sometimes I cry when I look back at the past 10 days, compared to the past 20 years of development. People are worried as no one knows what will happen. The present situation has left everybody feeling hopeless, unhappy; there is a heaviness in the air.”

He tells of going out to buy some meat. “I was talking to the butcher and he said: ‘nobody is coming.’ 

“Afghans love meat and even if a family is poor, they buy some meat. But now, people do not feel like eating, it is almost like they are eating just to survive.” He adds, that when the butcher relayed his plight he broke down and cried.

But he continues to work from home and on that front not much has changed, since staff have been working from home for the past several months, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Across Afghanistan, most UNDP projects are implemented with government staff, municipalities, and international and local NGOs - and after a lull following the collapse of the government in Kabul and takeover by the Taliban – some health related, disaster mitigation and construction projects on the ground have restarted across many communities.

That work would come to a halt during a crisis was to be expected, he says, because people were more apprehensive and anxious during the early days of the crisis. But life goes on, he adds.

“The elders have been calling and are asking us to keep working on projects. They say: ‘we are poor, we need the help, the government may be changing but we the people are not changing.’

He says activities have resumed on some climate resilience projects that are engaged in climate-resilient livelihoods and irrigation improved infrastructure, such as greenhouses, cold storage facilities, reservoirs, retaining walls, protection walls and canal lining – to reduce seepage and loss of water – and drip irrigation systems to give farmers a steady supply of water.

These projects are crucial as people are already facing the negative impacts of climate change, he says. They are also saving jobs. The work is being done by both skilled and unskilled labor that is available in the communities. The work on HIV, TB, Malaria and COVID response, also through our mobile health clinics, continue. These are saving lives.

However, with banking at a halt work is moving slowly. Some local community development councils had cash on hand - that was transferred before the Taliban took over – and they are continuing activities on the ground. But the banking system must be reestablished soon for work to move ahead as planned.

“I personally think, yes, we can stay, and we can deliver. We are working for the people of Afghanistan these are the same people, no matter the government.

“We Afghans adapt to situations. There is still hope. On TV we hear the Taliban say that there will be an inclusive government, we are hoping for the best.”

But, he says, when he goes out women and girls are a rare sight. I see “girls look out the window, they can’t go out.”

Getting through each day is tough, he adds. “It is difficult to concentrate and focus, you cannot focus when you are thinking what will happen to my country what will happen to what we did for development over the last 20 years, especially for girls and women.

“I don’t think they may have the opportunities that they had in past, like they were working before. There will be rules for them, and they may not want to adapt to the new rules.” So, they will be forced out of work, he says.   

Yet, according to him, the choice is clear and stark.

Despite the prevailing political uncertainty, he says: “We have to reach people especially the vulnerable people who have lost jobs.”

In a situation like this, “donors are always ready to provide humanitarian aid, but they must also focus on early recovery and long-term development.”

Humanitarian aid and development must go hand in hand, he says. “You don’t want to make people dependent you want to make them independent. Do not give them fish; teach them to fish.”