There are few greater agonies for a parent than a sick child. Six-month-old Sofia is suffering from severe anemia caused by acute malnutrition. Her mother Arezo told CBS News’ Imtiaz Tyab that the family simply didn’t have money to keep the tiny girl fed.
As CBS News watched Sofia get treatment at the Indira Ghandi Children’s Hospital in Kabul, her father told Tyab he was desperate.
“I need food,” he said, sobbing. “I have five kids — they are all so hungry.”
Hunger and poverty have stalked Afghanistan’s children for decades, but since the Taliban seized power two months ago, the nation has been spiralling into a deep humanitarian crisis.
According to the United Nations, if humanitarian assistance doesn’t come soon, more than a million children will die of malnutrition.
Signs of desperation can already be seen in every corner of the country. CBS News visited a USAID-funded World Food Programme distribution center that was packed with people desperate for a meal, but it has only a couple staples to offer.
“People come here because they are hungry, they need food, but all you are able to give them is flour and salt,” Wahid Ahmad Darwesh, one of the organizers at the center, told CBS News. “Right now, in this situation, it is good for them — not enough, but it will save their life.”
As Tyab spoke with Darwesh, the Taliban arrived.
“I am sorry, the Taliban make problem every day, as you will see,” the aid worker apologized. The militants told him to stop talking to our CBS News team and said all video cameras had to be turned off.
Tyab and his co-workers left the aid distribution center after overhearing one of the Taliban fighters ask his commander if he should kill them.
As the Taliban tightens its grip on power, Afghanistan is barely holding on.
The Biden administration has already frozen about $9 billion in Afghan government assets and, along with other nations, says any future financial support depends on the Taliban proving that it has moderated since it was last in power.
The international isolation and block on national cash reserves has led the Taliban’s leaders to restrict cash withdrawals at banks. Most workers in the country haven’t been paid their wages for months.
During the 20-year U.S.-led military involvement in Afghanistan, the country’s economy was propped up mainly by U.S. funding and other international aid. With little left to fill that void, more and more Afghans are resorting to selling whatever they can.
Tyab met one woman selling clothes on a roadside in Kabul. They were her children’s clothes.
“That’s all I have,” she said. She was hoping to make about one dollar.
Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s chief spokesman, told CBS News that the U.S. was to blame for the rampant poverty in his country, for freezing government assets that his group wants access to. He said the resumption of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan should not be held up over what other countries consider widespread human rights violations.
Tyab asked Mujahid if the Taliban can solve the humanitarian crisis — and save the lives of 1 million children — without help from the U.S.
“On the one hand they say a million children will die, but on the other, the U.S. are holding our money,” he said. “The U.S. should release our money so we can save more children.”
World leaders have now pledged $1.2 billion dollars of aid to Afghanistan, but those funds won’t do much to bring the beleaguered economy back from the brink, and they won’t be enough to help children like Sofia – the smallest, most vulnerable victims of the crisis that they had no part in creating.